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CG cutter Healy to begin first of three Actic research missions for 2012

Posted: August 17, 2012 - 12:02am

DUTCH HARBOR — U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the nation’s only operational polar ice breaker, left Dutch Harbor last week, to begin the first of three Arctic research missions scheduled during 2012.

With the 38 members of the HLY-12-01 science party now on board, the cutter is in transit through the Bering Strait to the Chukchi Sea.

According to a news release from the Coast Guard, the first science mission the Healy crew is scheduled to conduct is a part of the Chukchi Sea Offshore Monitoring in Drilling Area project, and will examine the Hanna Shoal region to determine the biological, chemical and physical properties that define the area as high biological and exploratory energy significance.

Hanna Shoal is positioned 92 miles northwest of Barrow, and is within 46 miles of the Shell exploratory drill sites. It is here that two nutrient-rich currents from the western Arctic and the Bering Sea merge, which create high standing stocks of biota — animal or plant life in a region — especially near the bottom of the water column, and in the marine sediment. The study will focus on the Hanna Shoal ecosystem, specifically on the influence of the plankton in the food chain, marine sediment fauna, and inventories of trace metal and organic compounds in the water column and on the seafloor, as well as physical oceanographic studies that will address water mass movements, ice conditions and modeling.

Healy will deploy an array of scientific instruments to retrieve this sensitive data, including Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) rosettes, a benthic camera, bongo nets, a benthic trawl, a Van Veen grab, and gravity/multi cores. The cutter will also deploy six moorings and numerous drift buoys.

The CTD provides a profile of the water column while capturing water samples at different depths for further analysis. The benthic camera is an optical package that monitors spectral absorption and attenuation, spectral backscattering, and chlorophyll fluorescence. The bongo net consists of two very fine mesh nets that are designed to capture small particles or organisms at different depths throughout the water column and store them in a way that will not cause harm to the specimen, so scientists can study them while they are still alive. The benthic trawl is towed along the seafloor to collect biological samples on the surface, while the Van Veen grab shallowly penetrates the seafloor to provide samples of sub-benthic flora and fauna. Corers are designed to provide profiled sediment samples, paired with bottom water.

Healy was commissioned in 2000, and is the nation’s newest and largest polar icebreaker. The cutter is 420 feet long and has extensive scientific capabilities. Homeported in Seattle, the cutter has a permanent crew of 96, and its primary mission is scientific support. As a Coast Guard cutter, Healy 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.

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