One of the challenges that the state of Alaska faces is frozen waterways, which can lead to a variety of issues. In order for ships to get through the ice floating in the frigid waters of the Arctic Sea at the top of the world, the ice has to be broken up. Did you know there are two heavy-duty icebreaking ships that the U.S. Coast Guard has put to good use to make that happen?
One of the nation’s two heavy-duty icebreakers is called The Polar Star. Painted bright red in color, the 35-year-old, 399-foot long ship recently underwent renovations to be completely overhauled. Right now it’s undergoing “ice trials” in the Arctic Circle, seeing how the multi-million dollar ship and its crew perform after four years of not being in the water.
Calling Seattle its homeport, The Polar Star is active while its fellow icebreaker, The Polar Sea, sits idle, tied up by politics which will ultimately decide its fate. Both The Polar Star and The Polar Sea have the ability to crush through ice about 21 feet thick. The Polar Star has been known to break through two-story walls of ice!
Using a technique called “backing and ramming,” The Polar Star is front-heavy. With its rounded hull and three gas turbines, the ship backs up on the ice and then falls down on it, smashing through the thick ice and creating channels that allow other ships to get through frozen waters.
As the world’s climate changes over time, it’s important we have decent ice-breaking capabilities and be able to accomplish all it wants and needs to do near the Arctic Circle in Alaska. It’s also important for the U.S. Coast Guard to maintain a presence in Arctic waters, especially regarding scientific research, search and rescue and law enforcement missions.
Interestingly, The Polar Star is not just all work and no play. The crew can take advantage of the on-board gym and movie theatre—two features to keep their spirits up during long voyages, some lasting half a year.
If you’d like to experience the Arctic Circle for yourself, but aren’t ready to commit to being a crew member on The Polar Star, then have 1st Alaska Outdoor School take you on interesting and educational sightseeing tours. See Arctic ice for yourself!
Posted by: Ralf Dobrovolny