KODIAK - The U.S. Coast Guard has stepped up surveillance flights to the Arctic and plans to complete one every two weeks to familiarize crews with the terrain.
A flight last week, called the Arctic Domain Awareness, also provided training for crew on the C-130 cargo plane and permitted time for law enforcement patrol, officials said.
Rear Adm. Gene Brooks, commander of the 17th Coast Guard district, said the Coast Guard needs to know about the lay of the land and what other countries might be in the Arctic.
"Climate change is upon us," Brooks said. "The Arctic sea ice is leaving earlier and coming later."
During one of the flights, which began last year, Brooks said the Coast Guard was surprised to come upon Chinese research vessels.
Brooks said the Coast Guard plans a two-week experiment later in the summer to move heavy equipment and other resources to Barrow and determine whether operations there are feasible.
"We, as a nation, must understand the challenges, opportunities and changes this environment might present," Brooks said.
Pilot Lt. Steve McKechnie said Thursday's flight introduced some possible communications glitches. For a while the crew had difficulty contacting the Kodiak base, which they must check in with every half hour.
The plane had to retrace its route until contact could be established.
"Other than that, I thought it went really well," McKechnie said.
Speaking over headsets, the crew provided commentary on the villages and the coast, reporting caribou sightings and a large group of walruses.
Brooks said Kodiak is "ground zero" for the Arctic awareness efforts. The Coast Guard plans to make Arctic Domain Awareness flights every two weeks.