US Coast Guard Cutter Healy returns from Arctic Sea research mission

The largest U.S. icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Healy is set to return from a 39-day science mission to the Arctic Chukchi Sea.

The icebreaker will moor in Seward on August 10 to disembark 46 researchers from the University of Alaska-Anchorage and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who completed the first of three scheduled missions.

Logistics for the port call will include swap out of science teams and equipment. The new researchers are arriving from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, U.C. San Diego and the Office of Naval Research.

Cutter Healy’s first oceanographic research mission resulted in the discovery of multiple new species of jellyfish in the Chukchi Borderlands. Entirely new genetic order of benthic ctenophore was discovered and a new reproductive behavior of comb jellyfish was documented.

Healy’s crew worked with the science party to deploy the Global Explorer ROV (remotely operated vehicle) to successfully collect hundreds of living specimens for laboratory study. Other sampling gear enabled the scientists to assess the biological diversity of the entire ecosystem, from creatures living beneath the sea floor to microbial communities in sea ice.

The ship is scheduled to depart for its second Arctic mission Tuesday, Aug. 11. The Coast Guard crew will help the science team deploy an array of acoustic bottom moorings to collect data on how climate change and decreased ice coverage is affecting the Arctic Ocean.

The third and final mission scheduled for mid-September is funded by NOAA in support of the State Department and the White House Office of Science and Technology. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire will use multi-beam sonar mapping and bottom dredging in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean to further support the demarcation of the Extended Continental Shelf to support the United States’ territorial claims in the Arctic.

Capt. Jason Hamilton is the commanding officer of the Seattle-based Cutter Healy which is the nation’s premiere high-latitude research vessel. The cutter is a 420-foot long icebreaker with extensive scientific capabilities and has a permanent crew of 87. Its primary mission is scientific support and is capable of other missions such as search and rescue, ship escort, environmental protection, and the enforcement of laws and treaties in the Polar Regions.