Healy – Not Your Grandfather’s Icebreaker!

The USCGC Healy sits alongside an ice floe to allow science operations to occur.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy sits alongside an ice floe to allow science operations to occur. Photo courtesy of Microcosm Film, The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands. Download high resolution image (jpg, 1.1 Mb)

August 9, 2016

CAPT Jason Hamilton
Commanding Officer
United States Coast Guard

CDR William Woityra
Executive Officer
United States Coast Guard

CDR William Woityra and CAPT Jason Hamilton proudly display the Planet from The Infinity Project, mentioned in the Unique Recognition for a Unique Expedition log.

CDR William Woityra and CAPT Jason Hamilton proudly display the Planet from The Infinity Project, mentioned in the Unique Recognition for a Unique Expedition log. Click image for credit and larger view.

When U.S. Coast Guard Cutter (USCGC) Healy sails throughout the Arctic, we simultaneously fulfill many purposes. First and foremost, we are an ice breaker, providing presence and access for a myriad of objectives, the primary and most visible of which is scientific research. Healy is the world’s premiere high-latitude research vessel. With two working decks, four winches, two A-frames, and over 4,000 square feet of lab space, Healy is highly capable of nearly any imaginable science mission.

Having had the opportunity to visit the Arctic each summer over the past three years, we truly appreciate what a rare and special experience these cruises are, for both the Healy crew and the science party alike. And now, with our nearly 20 cumulative years spent on ships (almost entirely on icebreakers!), we can say with confidence that The Hidden Ocean 2016: Chukchi Borderlands mission this summer has been the most exciting expedition on which either of us has served. It is always an honor to work with some of the world’s leading researchers carrying out cutting-edge science for the betterment of humankind, but the groundbreaking nature of the science this summer, and the immediate and tangible results, set this expedition apart.

It is hard to describe how thrilling it was to see the first transmissions from the Global Explorer remotely operated vehicle as they were projected on the large display in the Main Lab. It is an amazing tool, and offers an extraordinary window into the life of the Arctic. Most biologists will never have the opportunity to identify a species, like some of the ctenophores we collected. Fewer still will have the chance to discover, explore, and document a previously unknown ecosystem, like the Chukchi pockmarks. Yet this summer, through the cooperation of the Healy crew and the members of the science party, we were able to do both.

With many of the science missions supported by Healy, we aid in the collection of data and water samples that are taken back to the lab, and analyzed for years, possibly decades, before the true value of the research is fully appreciated. To get up close and personal with these new discoveries is an experience we will never forget.

Science operations, such as collecting ice samples, could not occur without the efforts of the USCGC Healy.

Science operations, such as collecting ice samples, could not occur without the efforts of the USCGC Healy. Click image for credit and larger view.

In addition to science, Healy fulfills several other roles. We are a multi-mission Coast Guard cutter that performs all 11 of the Coast Guard’s statutory missions, including Search and Rescue, Port Waterways and Coastal Security, Marine Environmental Protection, and Law Enforcement.

All of these missions fall into three roles: maritime safety, maritime security, and maritime stewardship. Is it easy to remember them as protecting mariners from the sea, protecting America from threats borne on the seas, and protecting the sea itself.

We always look forward to science missions. It is thrilling to spend summers in the Arctic, surrounded by ice, in the land of the midnight sun. It is rewarding to be part of an expedition that is actively expanding the boundaries of our understanding of the natural world. Whether we are discovering new species, documenting entirely new ecosystems, or collecting samples and data that will refine our models of climate change, serving aboard Healy is an opportunity to be at the forefront of oceanographic research, and one we will remember fondly for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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