Coast guard clearing way for bigger ships in Arctic
Annual northern mission a multi-faceted affair
By Brian Case, special to CBC News
Posted: Aug 30, 2012 5:48 PM ET
Last Updated: Aug 31, 2012 6:41 PM ET
When the Canadian Coast Guard offers help this summer in the search for the lost ships of Sir John Franklin's polar expedition, its efforts will be only one part of its multi-faceted annual mission to the Arctic.
Its return to the northern waters will also feature work that reflects the changing nature of the life in the area: bigger ships are starting to travel and work there and the coast guard will be moving beacons to make way for the larger vessels.
“The one change for us this year is we'll be opening the navigation season by laying all the buoys and checking the beacons," says Bill Noon, one of the captains of the icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
"But in Simpson Strait, [south of King William Island], we're going to be moving all the beacons to accommodate bigger ships — deeper-draft vessels starting to transit and work in the Arctic. That's a big program for us.”
The Sir Wilfrid Laurier sailed north from Victoria in early July. Once out of Juan de Fuca Strait, the icebreaker headed northwest toward the Gulf of Alaska.
Almost immediately, it began fulfilling one of its goals: as a base for science work.
Beehive of activity
Equipped with two laboratories and accommodation for 25 scientists, the cruise is a beehive of research activity, from collecting water chemistry data and sea floor organisms with a grab-sampler to observing marine mammals and birds to compare distribution and numbers with previous years and relate the data to climate factors.
Another coast guard task in the Arctic is icebreaking and escorting. That, too, began quickly this year.
"The Laurier had to break significant ice going into Barrow, Alaska, and also escorted a fishery vessel into Barrow through the ice,” says Noon.
Servicing and repairing about 150 navigational aids in the Western Arctic is another focus of the Laurier's Arctic mission.
Included in this year's work for Sir Wilfrid Laurier is about two weeks searching for Erebus and Terror, the lost ships of the 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin in the quest for the Northwest Passage.
That search is in collaboration with the Arctic Research Foundation's vessel, Martin Bergmann, a converted Newfoundland trawler now equipped to support scientific research.
“There's a lot of agencies involved, including Parks Canada searching for the Franklin ships, Canadian Hydrographic Service building charts, Environment Canada doing environmental research, and the Canadian Space Agency doing some satellite work also,” says Noon.
"This is going to be flat out, a lot going on. It should be interesting.”
This summer's search for the Franklin ships is one of many missions, says David (Duke) Snider, regional director of the Canadian Coast Guard fleet, Pacific Region.
"It really is secondary to all the other missions we're up there for. It's enabled because we're doing other missions,” Snider says.A grab sampler bound for the sea floor is launched off the coast guard icebreaker Sir Wilfrid Laurier for scientific work in the Bering Sea. (Brian Case)
One of those other missions is supporting Canadian sovereignty.
“I think one of the important things is that the red and white coast guard ships are the biggest Canadian flags up there,” Snider says.
"In a lot of cases, we are first ships into the areas and the last ships out, so we provide a very clear presence of the Canadian government in our Arctic.”
A coast guard presence is important to Arctic communities, Snider says.
'Symbols of the federal government'
“We are there, and we're symbols of the federal government. Our ships make efforts to touch base with folks, and we open up the ships for visits. We're part of the Canadian fabric, and it's all day-to-day, everyday business.
“There is a massive resupply of Arctic communities that goes on every summer, and without the support of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers, some of those deliveries may not occur at all. In some specific communities, only the coast guard's heavy icebreakers are able to get in and effect resupply,” Snider says.
The coast guard also responds to environmental incidents.Coast guard missions in the Arctic each summer include resupplying communities and supporting Canadian sovereignty. (Brian Case)
"Our icebreakers are up there carrying additional oil pollution response equipment,” Snider says.
“We really are jack-of-all-trades up there.”
This summer, there are six Canadian Coast Guard vessels plying Arctic waters, compared with seven last year. The Amundsen is out of commission this year for engine replacement.
Five of this summer's coast guard contingent are from the East Coast. The Laurier is the only one from the West Coast. It returns to Victoria in early October.
Top News Headlines
- Rob Ford councillors set to take over if mayor steps down
- Members of Rob Ford's executive committee say they are prepared to take over the day-to-day running of the city of the Toronto mayor is no longer able to perform his duties amid a scandal involving allegations he was caught on video smoking crack cocaine. more »
- Greg Weston: Senate scandal may be Harper's worst hour
- The widening Senate scandal that the prime minister flippantly tried to dismiss as a 'distraction' just days ago has instead become arguably Stephen Harper's worst hour. more »
- Man is ‘lucky to be alive’ after Washington bridge collapse
- A Washington state bridge over a river collapsed last night, dumping two vehicles into the water and sparking a rescue effort by boats and divers who searched the chilly waterway north of Seattle. more »
- 3D printers give rise to 'desktop manufacturing'
- Rob Ford fired chief of staff for telling mayor to 'get help'
- CBC News has learned the details of what precipitated the firing of Mark Towhey as Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's chief of staff — and it was advice from Towhey that Ford needs to 'get help.' more »
Latest Technology & Science News Headlines
- Canada's privacy laws inadequate for digital age, watchdog says
- Canadians' trust in the digital economy is at risk because our laws don't have enough teeth to compel companies to protect consumers' privacy, Canada's privacy commissioner says. more »
- Twitter launches feature to 'make sure it's really you'
- Following hack attacks on the Twitter accounts of The Associated Press, the Financial Times and other media organizations by the Syrian Electronic Army, Twitter has rolled out a new feature to help prevent unauthorized logins to a user's accounts. more »
- 'Hadfield at Home' parodies astronaut's return to 'normal' life
- While the real Chris Hadfield reacclimates to Earth gravity and performs experiments in Houston, a parody of the Canadian astronaut is recreating some of his famous space moments, but with decidedly terrestrial results. more »
- 3-D printing of airway tube helps save U.S. baby
- In a medical first, doctors used plastic particles and a 3-D laser printer to create an airway splint to save the life of a baby boy who used to stop breathing nearly every day. more »
Bob McDonald's Blog
- Chris Hadfield: The gravity of gravity May. 17, 2013 9:58 AM After five months of being Superman and a media superstar, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is now beginning the challenging task of adapting his mortal body and brain to life back on Earth.
Quirks & Quarks
- May 25: The Origin of Feces May. 23, 2013 9:43 AM Cow pies, scat, droppings, guano, dung, manure, night soil, poop, fecal matter, sh*t. Call it what you may, excrement plays a crucial role in evolution, culture and the environment.
- Rob Ford fired chief of staff for telling mayor to 'get help'
- Washington state bridge collapse injures 3
- Alleged Ford crack video seller not responding to calls
- Montreal lifts boil-water advisory
- Pickup truck backs up over mother, 2 children in tent
- Mike Duffy says he wants to give Canadians 'the whole story'
- Vancouver man abandons Porsche on B.C. ferry
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford fires chief of staff
- Canada Post campaigns against 'no flyers' mailbox signs