The country’s only heavy icebreaker arrived in Antarctica on Monday, after a nearly three-month journey from Seattle.
The deployment marks the Polar Star’s 25th trip to Earth’s southernmost continent, supporting Operation Deep Freeze – an annual resupply mission for American scientists conducting research near the South Pole, according to a Coast Guard release. .
Each year, the crew maneuvers the nearly 400-foot, 13,000-ton icebreaker to carve a channel to McMurdo Station, the logistics hub of the US Antarctic program. It digs miles of ice, sometimes up to 21 feet thick.
This winter, the icebreaker’s 157 crew spent four weeks breaking ice and clearing the shipping channel to the station, established on Ross Island in 1955.
The cleared route will allow two supply vessels to safely unload more than 8 million gallons of fuel and a thousand cargo containers. Together, the two ships carry enough fuel, food and essential supplies to support search operations year-round. Supply ships will return during the upcoming austral summer – the Southern Hemisphere season that runs from around November to February.
The mission marks the first return of the Polar Star to Antarctica since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Coast Guard statement.
Last winter, instead of heading south, the 46-year-old icebreaker sailed across the Arctic deployment, and is calling at Dutch Harbor for the first time since 2013.
This was the ship’s first winter deployment to the Arctic in nearly four decades.
The Polar Star patrolled the Arctic waters of Alaska – including the maritime border between the United States and Russia – to assert maritime sovereignty and security in the Far North, as well as to train the next generation of Polar sailors. .
Last winter’s patrol was the farthest north an American ship had sailed during the winter months.
The Coast Guard has been the nation’s sole provider of polar icebreaking capability since 1965, the statement said. Commissioned in 1976, the Polar Star is the only heavy icebreaker in the United States. The Coast Guard is expanding its icebreaker fleet with the construction of three new Polar Safety Cutters “to ensure a persistent national presence and reliable access to the Polar Regions.”
Construction of the first new icebreaker is expected to be completed in 2024.