Breaking the Ice

Breaking the Ice

A century after Roald Amundsen's voyage in the search for a Northwest Passage, Alvo Martin '51 followed the same spectacular route on a Coast Guard icebreaker and research ship.

By Robert Gillespie

Alvo Martin '51 aboard the Healy. Martin has traveled on two Arctic voyages as a journalist.
Martin's researches resulted in an August 2001 Macon Magazine article, "Captain Healy's Icebreaker." The Healy honors Michael Healy, who was born a slave in 1839, enlisted in the Treasury Department's Revenue Cutter Service (RCS), which decades later became the Coast Guard, and served in the RCS's tiny Arctic fleet in the years following the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. Among many other accomplishments, Healy introduced domesticated Siberian reindeer to Alaska, providing food, clothing and transportation to the region. When the Alaskan herd flourished, Martin said, "Healy helped the salvation of plenty of Eskimos."

Martin's article might have influenced the Coast Guard Commandant's decision to invite him aboard the Healy as a visiting journalist on the 2001 voyage, but he also won backing from the environmental people at CNN, who were interested in the expedition's global warming studies in the Eurasian Arctic, where most of today's shrinkage is occurring. The first phase of the Healy's maiden scientific cruise that year was an investigation of the Gakkel Ridge, a mid-ocean ridge in the high Arctic. The second phase was devoted to climate science, ice imagery and ice cover.

While most of the information scientists regularly receive on the status of the Arctic ice cover comes from satellites whose radars sweep the region daily, Martin says that NASA satellite engineers used Healy's onboard radars to record the images, or "signatures," of ice formations adjacent to the ship. The radar signatures of these formations were then compared with satellite imagery of the identical formations to identify ice types ranging from new flower-like, pancake, seasonal ice to thick, hard, multi-year ice that forms the permanent polar ice cap.

"Comparison of the two could better determine exactly what kind of ice the satellite was imaging that would cause warming in the Eurasian Arctic," he said.

Martin's Weather Channel Network documentary examined Healy's satellite ice imaging and the changing Arctic sea climate. Although he majored in history, government and economics at Colby, Martin says Geology Professor Emeritus Donaldson Koons "had a great influence on my thinking. Koons really pointed my head in that direction."

By the end of the voyage, Martin says, he understood the science "pretty well. My roommate, who was a satellite engineer with NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, would drag me out to hop on the ice for samples. It was very educational for me, but I didn't get much sleep."

Scientists aboard the Healy also took on another quest in 2001: they monitored ocean currents flowing into, through and out of the Arctic Ocean Basin, measuring the amount of fresh water,melting salt-depleted sea ice and glaciers,being discharged into ocean bodies.
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