USCG Cutter Polar Star Makes It to Antarctica

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star moors up to the ice pier at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, Feb. 7, 2022. Polar Star arrived at McMurdo after an 86-day transit from the United States and broke a 37-mile-long channel from the ice’s edge. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Diolanda Caballero.

On Feb. 7, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star made it to McMurdo Station in Antarctica for its annual participation in Operation Deep Freeze, which helps the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Antarctic Program’s lead agency.

This is the 25th time the 399-foot, 13,000-ton Seattle-based Polar Star, the Coast Guard’s only heavy icebreaker, is supporting the mission, which involves cutting through ice as thick as 21 feet to clear a pathway for vessels to bring fuel and supplies to the station, considered the U.S. Antarctic Program’s logistics hub.

Each year, the crew pilots the 399-foot, 13,000-ton cutter to break a navigable channel through miles of ice, sometimes as much as 21-feet thick, to allow fuel and supply ships to reach the station.

This year, Polar Star crew members arrived Jan. 3 at Ross Sea, Antarctica, and began cutting through 37 miles of ice from the ice pier in Winter Quarters Bay at McMurdo to the water and preparing the channel for two ships, Maersk Peary and Ocean Giant, to unload more than eight million gallons of fuel and 1,000 cargo containers, enough to sustain the Antarctic Program’s operations until summer 2023.

“We are excited to welcome the return of the Polar Star to McMurdo Station this year,” said Stephanie Short, section head of NSF’s Antarctic Infrastructure and Logistics. “Continuing the U.S. Antarctic Program’s vital operations would simply not be possible without [the cutter’s] support and the hard work of the captain and crew.”

By Karen Robes Meeks