Breaking the Ice on Climate Change Conspiracy Theories

Whew!  I’ve made it to today, finally (I don’t write on weekends anymore). 


When I stood on Main Street in Bloomingdale to take snowstorm photos last week, it was two degrees.  When I woke up this morning, it was 50 degrees.  According to The Weather Channel, when I wake up at the same time, it’s going to be 5 degrees.


The Climate Change Conspiracy theorists must be in their glory.  You can’t get more climate changish than a 45-degree temperature drop in a 24-hour period.  Still, they persist in their claim that we are experiencing global warming, that the Arctic ice is melting, and that the polar bears are dying.


Not so much in Antarctica.  The CCCs are silent about the fleet of ice breakers stuck in ten feet of Antarctic ice.  The Antarctic Ice Saga began when the Russian ship, the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, two weeks into a four-week expedition to follow the path taken 100 years ago by the Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, became trapped in ice during a Christmas Eve blizzard.


The Chinese Ice breaker, the Xuelong (Snow Dragon), sailed to their rescue.  The plan was to ferry the 22 crew members and passengers on a barge to the Snow Dragon.  But the Snow Dragon also became ice-bound.  An Australian icebreaker, The Aurora Australis came within 12 miles of the Chinese ship but was driven off by fierce winds and snow, and eventually was trapped in ice itself.  Meanwhile a Chinese helicopter had flown the Shokalskiy’s passengers to the Aurora Australis.


The U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker The Polar Star is now enroute to rescue the now-52 trapped passengers and crew of the three ships.  America comes to the rescue.  The USCGS Polar Star was commissioned in 1976 and built by Lockheed Shipbuilding and Constructing.  Her home port is Seattle, Wash.


The shell plating and associated internal support structure are fabricated from steel that has especially good low-temperature strength.  The hull strength is produced almost entirely from the massive internal support structure. Polar Star’s hull shape is designed to maximize icebreaking by efficiently combining the forces of the ship’s forward motion, the downward pull of gravity on the bow, and the upward push of the inherent buoyancy of the stern. The curved bow allows Polar Star to ride up on the ice, using the ship’s weight to break the ice.


With such a sturdy hull and high power to back it up, the 13,000-ton (13,200 metric ton) Polar Star is able to break through ice up to 21 feet (6.4 m) thick by backing and ramming and steam continuously through 6 feet (1.8 m) of ice at 3 knots (6 km/h).


Polar Star has other unique engineering features designed to aid in icebreaking. At one point, an installed heeling system could rock the ship to prevent getting stuck in the ice. The system consisted of three pairs of connected tanks on opposite sides of the ship. Pumps transferred a tank’s contents of 35,000 US gallons to an opposing tank in 50 seconds and generate 24,000 foot-tons of torque on the ship.  This system has since been removed due to maintenance issues.

Under a 2006 law, since the vessels were designated primarily as research vessels, the National Science Foundation pays for and runs the United States’ ice breaking vessels, using Coast Guard crews. On June 30, 2006, the USCG placed the Polar Star in “Commission-Special” status in Seattle. This caretaker status required a reduced crew of 34 to keep the ship ready for a possible return to the ice. In 2009, the NSF announced that they would end funding for maintaining the Polar Star.

In March 2010, United States Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen announced that the Polar Star would receive a $62 million overhaul, to be complete by December 2012.  On Dec. 14 2012, the United States Coast Guard announced the reactivation of the Polar Star.  The overhaul of the Polar Star, completed by Seattle’s Vigor Industrial Shipyard (formerly Todd Pacific shipyard), cost US$57 million. The Polar Star underwent testing in 2013 prior to returning to service. The Polar Star was back in operation in late 2013, and assigned to Antarctic operations as part of Operation Deep Freeze in early 2014.

So why was the Shokalskiy in Antarctica?  To track how quickly the Antarctic’s sea ice was supposedly disappearing.

The expedition was privately funded.  The leader of the expedition, Chris Turney said that he had hoped to continue the trip if an icebreaker managed to free the ship.   Despite the disappointment over the expedition being cut short, spirits had remained high among the tourists and scientists.

“I’m a bit sad it has ended this way,” Mr. Turney said. “But we got lots and lots of great science done.”



Published in: on January 6, 2014 at 3:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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