U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard)

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, home-ported in Seattle, arrived at the North Pole this week, becoming the first U.S. surface ship to do so unaccompanied. This is only the fourth time a U.S. surface vessel has ever reached the North Pole, and the first since 2005.

Healy’s crew and science party, including several scientists and a graduate student from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska on August 9, in support of GEOTRACES, a historic, international effort to study the geochemistry of the world’s oceans. This National Science Foundation funded scientific expedition, with a diverse team from multiple scientific institutions is focused on studying the Arctic Ocean to meet a number of scientific goals, including the creation of a baseline of measurements for future comparisons.

Ocean chemistry

On-board the Healy, SOEST Oceanography Professor Chris Measures and research affiliate Mariko Hatta are measuring trace elements such as dissolved iron, aluminum and manganese in seawater samples taken throughout the expedition. This project, jointly funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, will help scientists understand the geochemical cycling in the Arctic Ocean and its connection to the physical mixing and biological processes in this understudied part of the world’s ocean.

Accessing the Arctic

The United States is an Arctic Nation and the Coast Guard has operated in the Arctic since the 1860s. Reaching the North Pole serves as a testament to the Coast Guard’s continued ability to provide access and presence throughout this increasingly important and operationally challenging region of the world.

Healy is the United States’ premier high latitude vessel. Healy is a 420-foot, 16,000 ton, 30,000-horsepower icebreaker, capable of breaking over 10 feet of ice. In addition to performing the Coast Guard’s other statutory missions such as law enforcement and search and rescue, Healy is a research platform with extensive laboratory spaces, multiple oceanographic deck winches and berthing for 50 scientists.

Understanding leads to stewardship

As the Arctic region continues to open up to development, the data collected onboard Healy during this cruise, as well as the Coast Guard’s ability to maintain access and presence in the Arctic, will become ever more essential to understanding how biological, chemical and physical processes of the Arctic work, and how to most responsibly exercise stewardship over the region.

A School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology story