Coast Guard Extending Reach as Arctic Thaws



US Coast Guardsmen prepar to drop a buoy into the Arctic Ocean from aboard an Air Station Kodiak C-130 during a recent Arctic Domain Awareness flight. Jacob Resneck/KMXT photo

Jacob Resneck/KMXT

Every two weeks between March and November, a Coast Guard C-130 flies over the Arctic Ocean. Known as the Arctic Domain Awareness, the mission assists researchers as well as asserts U.S. sovereignty over a slice of water that’s becoming more strategically important as the ice recedes. KMXT’s Jacob Resneck filed this report.

[arctic awareness] 4:44

In-cue: "Standing on the tarmac at Elmendorf …"

Out-cue: "… on a C-130 north of Point Barrow, I’m Jacob Resneck.:

Standing on the tarmac at Elmendorf Air Force Base is Roger Andersen, a mathematician and researcher who’s been studying Arctic sea ice for more than 35 years. This week’s mission for the C-130 is to drop two buoys developed by the University of Washington.


These measurements are becoming increasingly important as the sea ice retreats, opening up potential shipping lanes for an Arctic passage from North America to Europe and Asia.

[c-130 revs up]

Also aboard the C-130 is Rear Admiral Christopher Colvin, commander of the Coast Guard in Alaska.


We fly some 375 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Below is nothing but open water with no ice in sight. The retreat of sea ice has led to increased shipping activity which the Coast Guard believes will make the Bering Strait increasingly strategic.


There are territorial disputes in the Arctic with Canada over the famed Northwest Passage. Canada claims it is within its territorial waters and not an international corridor. But other northern passages, especially along the coast of Siberia, are being pursued by Russia as an international route. That, says Colvin, is reason to lay the groundwork for international shipping agreements.


As Arctic activity increases so does the importance of Kodiak. As the hub for the Coast Guard in the North Pacific, it’s the nearest base for aircraft and cutters when help is needed on the water.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is also taking atmospheric samples from northern latitudes. Jason Manthey is a Kodiak-based subcontractor who regularly flies with the Coast Guard. He’s a technician helping NOAA measure C-O-2, methane, ozone as well as temperature and humidity at specific altitudes that’s sent to laboratories in Colorado.

[manthey2] [C-130 doors open]

About 40 miles north of Barrow the flight crew readies the first buoy. But an apparent malfunction keeps the flight crew from releasing it.

About 90 miles north of Barrow the second buoy is dropped from about 500 feet. The chute opens but it makes what appears to be a hard landing in the open water. The drop is outside of territorial waters but well inside a 200-mile buffer known as the Exclusive Economic Zone to protect natural resources like fishing and oil and gas exploration.

Andersen reported later that the $18,000 dollar buoy isn’t transmitting and there are fears it didn’t survive the drop. But as the Coast Guard has three more scheduled flights before the mission is suspended during the dark winter months, he says he’ll be going up for another try.

On a C-130 north of Point Barrow, I’m Jacob Resneck. ###

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