By CAPT Jason Hamilton, Commanding Officer, United States Coast Guard
CDR William Woityra, Executive Officer, United States Coast Guard
August 9, 2016
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.
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.