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U.S. icebreaking ship arrives in McMurdo

MCMURDO, Antarctica (AFNEWS) -- The Coast Guard became part of the Air Force-led Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica Jan. 1 with the arrival of the Cutter Polar Sea at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Home ported in Seattle, the Polar Sea arrived after a month-long voyage including stops in Honolulu and Sydney, Australia.

The Polar Sea joined the Swedish icebreaker Oden, which began breaking ice Dec. 26.

For the past 50 years, Coast Guard icebreakers have deployed to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, where ships have broken through as much as 84 nautical miles of ice to produce a navigable shipping channel into McMurdo Station. This year's channel will be approximately 23 nautical miles long -- 13 of which is first year ice at an average thickness of 3 to 5 feet and 10 of which is multi-year ice at an average thickness of 5 to 11 feet.

This vital shipping channel allows supply ships to deliver more than 6 million gallons of fuel and 4,000 metric tons of cargo, enabling McMurdo Station and South Pole Station to remain manned and operational throughout the harsh winter months. The Polar Sea also acts as a floating research platform for scientists that travel onboard.

Ice breaking operations will continue until the departure of the cargo ship in mid-February when the Polar Sea will return home.

The Polar Sea, a 399-foot polar class icebreaker with a 140-person crew, is recently out of a two-year overhaul. The Polar Sea conducted sea trials in the Arctic this summer to test all the ship's equipment and train the crew prior to transiting to Antarctica to re-supply the McMurdo station for the National Science Foundation.

The Polar Sea was specifically designed for solo icebreaking in remote Polar Regions. The cutter's red reinforced hull is made of 1.75 inches of steel that covers a specially contoured icebreaking bow. The cutter can call on 75,000 shaft horsepower enabling it to break up to 21 feet of ice. The Polar Sea has deployed 17 times in support of Operation Deep Freeze.

(Courtesy of 13th Air Force Public Affairs)

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