Coast Guard icebreaker stops in San Diego before Arctic mission
By JENNIFER VAN GROVE | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: June 25, 2018
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Ahead of its annual summer research deployment to the Arctic, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy is stopping over in San Diego to pick up supplies and give the public a window inside the ice-breaking operations of the branch’s largest ship.
Healy, which operates in partnership with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Office of Naval Research, is coming off a maintenance stay at its home port in Seattle and is preparing for three fact-finding missions in the waters above the Bering Strait.
The 20-year-old cutter, a 30,000-horsepower ship weighing 16,000 tons, gets dispatched to the freezing waters every year because of its ability to operate in ice-covered waters and break through as much as eight feet of ice, if necessary.
Before heading north, the crew aboard the Healy is training personnel, testing equipment and picking up new gear.
In San Diego since Saturday at the B Street Pier, the cutter will take on supplies from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, whose scientists will also participate in the ship’s missions. There were guided public tours aboard the ship on Sunday.
“It’s impressive,” said Daniel McKee, who drove down from Temecula with his wife, son and brother-in-law. “I’ve never been on a boat quite like this. To see that it’s actually gone to the Arctic for exploration missions is really fascinating.”
This year, Healy’s missions revolve around studying climate change, examining how sound spreads under water and studying ocean currents. Missions are typically funded by a science institution with 2018’s operations financed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.
In addition to the ship’s standard crew of 85, Healy’s personnel at deployment includes a 50-person civilian academic unit with oceanographers from the University of Washington and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The National Science Foundation project seeks to understand the movement of plankton and fish as a result of currents and eddies.
“Where the oceans go, the food goes. And where the food goes, the creatures go. So (researchers) follow different temperature bands,” said Capt. Greg Tlapa, the ship’s commanding officer.
For each project, the Coast Guard operates the ship’s machinery, which includes mooring buoys that spend a year under water and a “CDT” instrument for collecting water samples. The scientists on board conduct data analysis, sampling and other projects in the ship’s research facilities, which take up around a third of the 420-foot long vessel.
While there is a master plan, ice conditions will ultimately dictate Healy’s movements, Tlapa said. The ship’s leadership uses ice imagery from the National Ice Center for a day-to-day analysis of conditions.
“It’s very fluid,” Tlapa said of Healy’s schedule. “The first rule of ice breaking is avoid it if you can. It’s like hitting concrete.”
Healy departs San Diego on Tuesday and will return to Seattle for a two-week break before a five-month deployment to the Arctic.
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