in the arctic ice. Image courtesy Ecoshelf.
at Spitsbergen's coast. Image courtesy Ecoshelf.
Icebreakers (20th century)
Advances in shipbuilding technology
resulted in the creation of the icebreaker, a vessel strong
enough to not only withstand the crushing power of the ice,
but to break through it. This technology finally opened most
of the ice covered Arctic Ocean to military, scientific and
commercial interests. In Russia, Britnev is believed to have
proposed in 1864 the characteristic bow shape that is now used
by all icebreakers. The first notable icebreaker was the Pilot
(1870), used to maintain communication between Kronstadt and
St. Petersburg. Naval Commander Makarov is credited with the
construction of the Yermak, the first true icebreaker,
which reached 81°21'N north of Spitsbergen on her maiden voyage
in 1899, and 83°06'N nearly 40 years later. In 1916, the first
linear icebreaker aimed at support of regular navigation along
the northern coast of Russia was built in Newcastle, England
by order of Russian Maritime Ministry, and named the Krasin.
This icebreaker operated for many years in the Arctic and was
a crucial component in the development of the Northern Sea Route
In 1921, the Floating Marine Institute in the USSR was founded
for multi-disciplinary study of the Arctic Ocean and adjacent
seas, rivers, islands and coastal areas. Its first cruise was
carried out on the icebreaking steamer Malygin. Later,
a new special vessel Persei was built in Arkhangelsk.
In the eastern sector of the Arctic, regular steamer cruises
from Vladivostok to Kolyma commenced, and in 1927, ships from
Vladivostok came to Tiksi in the Laptev Sea and even the Lena
River. In 1928, Krasin reached the ice camp of the
Italian airman Nobile and took part in the rescue. The icebreaking
steamer Malygin approached the camp from the southeast
and carried out valuable scientific observations in the northern
part of the Barents Sea. Icebreaking steamer Sedov
explored the western and southern part of Frantz Josef Land.
The first nuclear powered icebreaker, Lenin, was built
in 1959 at Admiralty Shipyard, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg).
The most powerful nuclear icebreaker in the world was the Soviet
Arctika. It was the first surface ship to reach the
North Pole in 1977.
When the US purchased Alaska in 1867, the Coast Guard gained
an interest in operating in ice covered water and utilized various
vessels between the 1890s and 1930s. The first true US icebreakers
were commissioned in 1939 and were called the Arundel,
Naugatuck, Mahonig, and Raritan.
The need to have true polar vessels became urgent during World
War II, so the 269 foot Wind class icebreakers (Northwind,
Southwind, Eastwind, and Westwind)
were commissioned in 1941 and completed in 1944. Three of these
vessels were transferred to the Soviet Union under lend lease,
but were returned to the US in the 1950s. Because another vessel
had been built in 1945 with the name Northwind, the
returned vessel was renamed the Staten Island. The
Southwind was called Atka during her Navy
service from 1950 to 1966. The Edisto, Burton Island,
and Glacier were also commissioned by the Navy during
this time, but by 1966 all of the icebreakers had been transferred
to the Coast Guard. Oceanographic results from the US Coast
Guard or Naval vessels operating in the Arctic from the 1930s
through the 1960s have been reported by the Coast Guard, International
Ice Patrol, and Naval Oceanographic Office, among others.
|U.S. Coast Guard Cutter
Westwind (WAGB-281) approaches the Coast Guard LORAN Station
at Cape Atholl, Greenland. The station is located some
20 miles from Thule Air Force Base and 800 miles from
the North Pole. Scenic fjords and rugged mountains loom
in the background. Image courtesy US Coast Guard.
By the 1970s, the Wind class icebreakers were beginning to show
their age. The Polar class icebreakers Polar Star and
Polar Sea were commissioned in 1976, and continue to
serve in the Arctic. In 1998, the most modern US icebreaker
was launched. Named Healy, she is the first icebreaker
designed specifically to fulfill scientific needs. Able to accommodate
up to 35 scientists, the ship is completely equipped with the
features required for all types of oceanographic research in
the polar regions.
On the web: Canney,
D.L., Icebreakers and Icebreaking