Icebreaker Update

National Science Board Meeting, 28-29 July 2011

an ice breaker
Above, the Russian nuclear icebreaker Vaygach, one of the considered options (see below)

First, briefly, the administrative information. The National Science Board (NSB) is the body which governs the National Science Foundation (NSF). Board meetings are held roughly quarterly...the schedule, agenda, summary report, and open session minutes, are published here. Additionally, the open portion of the meetings are videoconferenced live, and archived.

One of the significant discussion points at the July meeting was the status of obtaining an icebreaker to support the 2011-12 resupply...an agenda item listed on the public agenda as "McMurdo Station Resupply Issues." Anyone seriously interested in this subject needs to watch the video (as I have done several times, the archived webcast was still available in October 2012)...go to the conference video link and fill in the login information. Then watch the "CPP Subcommittee on Polar Issues" video (see right side of screen)...over an hour total, with explanation by Karl Erb, the director of the Office of Polar Programs, along with Brian Stone and George Blaisdell. The video presentations include closed captioning and slides. More information than you probably cared to know...including discussions about what happens if we DON'T get an icebreaker...as well as NSF Arctic science...the status of the Antarctic support contract award...the fact that more than 300 tourists are expected to be at Pole on 14 December, the centenary of Amundsen's arrival...

After outlining the fact that the US Coast Guard polar class icebreakers aren't available, and neither is the Oden (because of complaints in previous years that it was doing science in the Antarctic when heavy ice disrupted Swedish ports)...the three options were discussed:

  1. using the Healy, perhaps with help of another vessel (the NBP?) (if the ice conditions are light)(but remember Murphy's Law is valid in the Antarctic)
  2. a Russian nuclear powered icebreaker, probably the Vaygach, which is a "river class" icebreaker, built by Wärtsilä in Finland in 1989. Stats: 493' long x 95.8' beam x 29.5' depth, max displacement 23,460 tons, max speed 22 knots, 48,000 shaft horsepower. ( Oh, I just happen to have the stats page on all of the Russian icebreakers.) As of the time of the meeting, this was the best option (the above photo of the Vaygach is from this February Bellona article about the difficult Arctic sea ice conditions this past boreal winter).
  3. a Russian commercial icebreaker, perhaps the Krasin (which was employed in 2004-05 and 2005-06) or a sister ship, operated by FESCO...these are booked up by Exxon (and it was later suggested that someone like President Obama needed to make some phone calls).

Other less likely options, perhaps viable in future seasons, were also discussed...a Canadian icebreaker, the Australian science icebreaker/supply vessel...or even a hovercraft to transfer fuel to McMurdo from a tanker on the ice edge. And the options for a curtailed season were described as well...including the statement that the decision to curtail the season needed to be made in mid-August, and that once that decision had been made, it would be difficult to reverse.

[Note...the above information has been overtaken by events...in late August 2011 NSF announced they had signed an agreement with a Russian company to charter a diesel icebreaker for the 2011-12 season.]