2
Rationale for a Continued U.S. Icebreaking Capability

RATIONALE FOR A U.S. ANTARCTIC PRESENCE

Since the United States committed to a significant program of exploration and study of the Antarctic during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 and subsequently signed the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the nation has maintained an active presence in the region. Antarctica is governed by an international treaty which requires that governing countries conduct an active scientific program in the region. Currently, 28 nations are full members with voting rights. The U.S. Department of State represents the United States in the Antarctic Treaty process. Management of the United States Antarctic Program was assigned to the National Science Foundation by Presidential Memorandum 6646 (1982).

National policy directives have consistently reiterated the national importance of maintaining a visible presence and an active U.S. Antarctic Program in the region. U.S. interests were most recently articulated in a Presidential Decision Directive NSC (1994), which presented four objectives for U.S. policy in Antarctica:

  1. Protecting the relatively unspoiled environment of Antarctica and its associated ecosystems.

  2. Preserving and pursuing unique opportunities for scientific research to understand Antarctica and global physical and environmental systems.

  3. Maintaining Antarctica as an area of international cooperation reserved exclusively for peaceful purposes.

  4. Assuring the conservation and sustainable management of the living resources in the oceans surrounding Antarctica.

In 1996, the Committee on Fundamental Science of the President’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) reviewed U.S. activities in the polar regions and confirmed that “the National Science Foundation has implemented U.S. policy in an effective manner” and that “the USAP research program is of very high quality” (U.S. Antarctic Program, Committee on Fundamental Science, NSTC [Appendix IV] April 1996). In 1997, an in-depth review of the U.S. Antarctic Program again confirmed the importance of a continued strong science program in the Antarctic and made recommendations for improvement (NSF, Report of the U.S. Antarctic Program External Panel, April 1997). In a recent briefing to this Committee, the Department of State once again stated that it is essential that the United States maintain an active and influential



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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment 2 Rationale for a Continued U.S. Icebreaking Capability RATIONALE FOR A U.S. ANTARCTIC PRESENCE Since the United States committed to a significant program of exploration and study of the Antarctic during the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958 and subsequently signed the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the nation has maintained an active presence in the region. Antarctica is governed by an international treaty which requires that governing countries conduct an active scientific program in the region. Currently, 28 nations are full members with voting rights. The U.S. Department of State represents the United States in the Antarctic Treaty process. Management of the United States Antarctic Program was assigned to the National Science Foundation by Presidential Memorandum 6646 (1982). National policy directives have consistently reiterated the national importance of maintaining a visible presence and an active U.S. Antarctic Program in the region. U.S. interests were most recently articulated in a Presidential Decision Directive NSC (1994), which presented four objectives for U.S. policy in Antarctica: Protecting the relatively unspoiled environment of Antarctica and its associated ecosystems. Preserving and pursuing unique opportunities for scientific research to understand Antarctica and global physical and environmental systems. Maintaining Antarctica as an area of international cooperation reserved exclusively for peaceful purposes. Assuring the conservation and sustainable management of the living resources in the oceans surrounding Antarctica. In 1996, the Committee on Fundamental Science of the President’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) reviewed U.S. activities in the polar regions and confirmed that “the National Science Foundation has implemented U.S. policy in an effective manner” and that “the USAP research program is of very high quality” (U.S. Antarctic Program, Committee on Fundamental Science, NSTC [Appendix IV] April 1996). In 1997, an in-depth review of the U.S. Antarctic Program again confirmed the importance of a continued strong science program in the Antarctic and made recommendations for improvement (NSF, Report of the U.S. Antarctic Program External Panel, April 1997). In a recent briefing to this Committee, the Department of State once again stated that it is essential that the United States maintain an active and influential

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment presence in Antarctica, including but not limited to year-round operation of South Pole Station and other permanent stations. The long-term cooperative management of Antarctica achieved under the Antarctic Treaty is a significant accomplishment, and the central role of science in this system cannot be overstated. Under the Treaty, the United States and other signatories are guaranteed freedom of scientific research and provided inspection rights to ensure compliance. The Treaty prohibits military activities and establishes a legal framework with provisions that defuse potential sovereignty disputes in Antarctica. The influential U.S. presence in Antarctica is principally a result of the operations of the U.S. Antarctic Program and its three year-round research stations: McMurdo Station, Palmer Station, and South Pole Station. This presence protects the U.S. stance on Antarctic sovereignty, secures the United States an influential role in the Treaty’s decision-making system, and helps maintain the political and legal balance necessary for the success of the Treaty. While the United States does not claim territory in Antarctica, it does maintain the basis for a claim and it does not recognize the territorial claims made by seven other countries. The U.S. national presence in the Antarctic is possible because of the logistical support of U.S. military forces that are charged to support the re-supply of the permanent science stations. The marine aspects of this mission were originally accomplished by the U.S. Navy and transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1965. The U.S. Navy continued to provide air lift support to Operation Deep Freeze until the mid 1990s, when this task was transferred to the Air National Guard. The principal role of the U.S. Coast Guard has been to provide logistics support to the U.S. Antarctic Program by breaking a channel into McMurdo Sound to allow re-supply of the McMurdo and South Pole Stations. Icebreakers are a lifeline to and critical for the maintenance of U.S. Antarctic Program operations. Until recently, the approach of using the two heavy icebreakers, sometimes together and sometimes separately depending on conditions, to open a channel for re-supply of the McMurdo and South Pole Stations has worked successfully.1 But the deteriorating status of these ships now adds greater uncertainty and risk of failure for the operation. The NSF is concerned that the lack of reliable icebreaking support may make it increasingly difficult to maintain the permanent stations and associated science programs. According to comments from the representative of the Department of State assigned to Antarctic issues, if re-supply of South Pole Station is not successful, this would jeopardize the continued U.S. presence at the South Pole. There would be significant consequences because abandonment of that key site would create a vacuum in leadership and likely result in a scramble for control. The South Pole occupies an essential position at the apex of the areas that are claimed by seven countries that maintain territorial claims, and this would be a detriment to our position as well as to the stability of the Treaty system. 1   Research needs at Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula requires nearly year-round access. However, this area has more benign ice conditions and does not require heavy icebreaking for resupply. Access is accomplished by the Laurence M. Gould and the Nathaniel B. Palmer, leased by the NSF’s prime contractor, currently Raytheon Polar Services, from Edison Chouest Offshore. These ships are designed primarily as oceanographic research vessels but with enough ice breaking capability for the Antarctic Peninsula region.

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment RATIONALE FOR A U.S. ARCTIC PRESENCE The United States is an Arctic nation, meaning that we—and seven other countries—have territory and citizens above 60 degrees north latitude. Thus, the nation has clear obligations to the population of Alaska as well as a range of international responsibilities, treaty obligations, and policy interests in the region. The United States is a founding signatory and member state of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for addressing issues and challenges shared by the Arctic states of Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faeroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States. The most recent National Security Council policy review of U.S. Arctic policy, undertaken in 1994, lists “national security and defense” as one of the key principal interests in the Arctic. Typically, U.S. national security and foreign policy concerns center on sovereignty and jurisdictional issues and the Arctic Ocean is treated like other oceans for purposes of sovereignty and jurisdictional claims. These issues focus on freedom of access to ice-covered boundary areas as well as international straits and waterways in the Arctic, such as the Bering Strait and the Northwest Passage. In addition, obligations under international agreements, such as the U.S.-Denmark bilateral agreement regarding airbases in Greenland and the multilateral agreement concerning the North Atlantic Ice Patrol, must be fulfilled. At present, the re-supply of the U.S. Thule Air Force Base in Greenland is achieved through an agreement between the Canadian and U.S. coast guards. The Canadian Coast Guard is responsible for re-supplying the base in exchange for ice-breaking services provided by the U.S. Coast Guard in the western Arctic. Reciprocal support for Canadian icebreaking requirements is routinely offered. In practice, this has consisted mostly of joint science program support and operational support, such as the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic Ocean (SHEBA) project. Of special importance in the near term is the approaching enforcement of the 1982 U.N. Law of the Sea Convention. Since the seventeenth century, the oceans have been subject to a “freedom of the seas” doctrine, a principle limiting national rights and jurisdiction over the oceans to a narrow belt of sea surrounding a nation’s coastline. The remainder of the seas was proclaimed free to all and belonging to none. But by the mid-twentieth century there was growing concern over the toll on coastal fish stock caused by long-distance fishing fleets, pollution from transport ships, and other demands, and in 1945 the United States extended its jurisdiction to include all natural resources on the continental shelf; other nations soon followed suit. As pressure on ocean resources increased, amplified by advances in technology, discussions began in 1973 that culminated in the 1982 adoption by the United Nations of a constitution for the seas, the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Convention covers many issues from navigational rights to the legal status of resources on the seabed. UNCLOS entered into force on November 16, 1994, but without accession by the United States. Most of the 1982 Convention has been supported by U.S. Administrations beginning with President Reagan, but many industrialized nations had problems with some provisions related to deep seabed mining. However, changes have been made to address these issues, and the Convention is now seen as likely to be ratified by the U.S. Senate. Adhering nations are taking the steps required to extend their jurisdiction to claim territory beyond the current 200-mile exclusive economic zone by documenting the extent of their continental shelves through undersea mapping. Asserting a national presence in the Arctic requires access to the region and icebreaker support is the preferred way of egress into ice-covered boundary areas. Although U.S. Navy submarines and U.S. Air Force aerial assets are present in the Arctic region, the U.S. Coast Guard

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment is the principal government agency that is capable of year-round operations in Arctic surface waters. The U.S. Coast Guard, through use of the HEALY and previously the Polar Class vessels (last used in 2002 for Arctic operations), is the main federal presence in the waters of this region. Although primarily devoted to oceanographic research, the HEALY is available for other missions ranging from national defense, law enforcement, search and rescue, and support of U.S. commerce (shipping, tourism, fishing, and resource exploration). RATIONALE FOR U.S. SUPPORT OF ANTARCTIC AND ARCTIC SCIENCE Research in the polar regions is relevant to U.S. national interests in many ways. According to information provided by the National Science Foundation, the Arctic and the Antarctic are premier natural laboratories whose extreme environments and geographically unique settings enable research on fundamental phenomena and processes not feasible elsewhere (NSF, 2005). In addition, the polar regions are tightly coupled to the global earth system. Research in the polar regions is conducted to advance our understanding of the earth and its systems (e.g., understanding global heat distribution in the oceans and the atmosphere), to explore new frontiers (e.g., the central Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean are the least studied regions of the earth’s oceans), and to perform research that is best conducted in these cold, dry settings (e.g., the extremely dry atmosphere and high altitude of the South Pole make it the ideal location for astrophysical observations and study of the origins of the universe). Advances in polar research depend heavily on ships capable of operating in ice-covered regions, either as research platforms or as key components of the logistics chain that supports on-continent research (NSF, 2005). The polar regions have a special role in research that is trying to better understand environmental change. Environmental changes occurring in the polar regions, and particularly in the Arctic, are unprecedented in times of modern observation. Satellite images show that the summer minimum extent (in September) of the Arctic sea ice cover has decreased over the last several decades, with a record minimum extent observed in 2005. From 1979 through 2001, the rate of decline in the extent of summer sea ice was slightly more than 6.5 percent per decade. The rate of decline for the 2002-2005 time period is approximately 8 percent per decade. During the last four years (2001-2005), Arctic ice extent was approximately 20 percent less than the average from 1978 through 2000. This decline in sea ice amounts to approximately 1.3 million square kilometers (500,000 square miles), an area equivalent to roughly twice the size of Texas (ACIA, 2005). Some Alaskan coastal villages are relocating to inland sites because coastal erosion—accelerating due to ice retreat, permafrost melt, and increased storm activity—threatens buildings, roads, and major infrastructure. At the other end of the planet, some ice shelves in Antarctica are disintegrating, retreating, and/or thinning. The spectacular collapse of the Larsen B Ice Shelf, on the Antarctic Peninsula, caused an area roughly the size of Rhode Island to break into small icebergs in 2002. Glaciers in West Antarctica are shrinking at a rate substantially higher than observed in the 1990s (ACIA, 2005 report and references therein). The polar regions are central to many of the environmental issues of our time as these regions are expected to be more sensitive to a changing climate than lower latitudes. It has been demonstrated that in polar regions the magnitude of a global warming signal is amplified by ice-albedo feedback. In response, interest and scientific investigation in the polar regions to understand the cause and consequences of environmental change is greatly increasing as epitomized by the level of planning and participation and interest in the International Polar Year 2007-2008. Icebreakers

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Polar Icebreaker Roles and U.S. Future Needs: A Preliminary Assessment play a key role in supporting science, especially in the Arctic where the successful execution of many ocean- based science missions have relied upon the HEALY.