ping of the U.S. continental shelf off the coast of Alaska, if the United States wishes to use the treaty to extend its economic zones and/or to counter territorial claims by other Arctic nations. Acquisition of the bathymetric, seismic, and coring data necessary to substantiate a U.S. claim requires access to ice-covered waters and specialized scientific equipment, which at present can be provided only by the HEALY.

The potential increase in human activity in northern latitudes will likely increase the demand on the United States to assert a greater, active, and influential presence in the Arctic to not only protect its interests, but also to project its presence as a world power concerned with security, economic, scientific, and international political issues. Routine U.S. Coast Guard patrols in ice-covered waters would contribute to the nation’s presence in the region. To assert U.S. interests in the Arctic, the nation needs to be able to access various sites throughout the region at various times of the year reliably, and at will. While the southern extent of the Arctic ice pack is thinning and becoming less extensive during the summer, there is no question that polar icebreakers will be required for many decades for ingress to much of the Arctic Basin. Ice conditions in the U.S. Arctic are among the most variable and occasionally challenging through the circum-Arctic. National interests require icebreakers that can navigate the most formidable ice conditions encountered in the Arctic.

Recommendation 1: The United States should continue to project an active and influential presence in the Arctic to support its interests. This requires U.S. government polar icebreaking capability to ensure year-round access throughout the region.

ICEBREAKING NEEDS IN THE ANTARCTIC

During the International Geophysical Year of 1957-1958, the United States committed to significant exploration and scientific study of Antarctica. Since that time, the United States has maintained an active presence in Antarctica to develop and protect its strategic interests related to foreign policy and security, environmental protection, and scientific research. The United States has strong interest in ensuring that the Antarctic continent is preserved exclusively for peaceful purposes, furthering scientific knowledge, and preserving and protecting one of the most pristine environments on the globe. In support of these interests, the United States does not claim territory in Antarctica (although it does maintain the basis for a claim), and it does not recognize the (overlapping) territorial claims made by seven other countries.

Multiple national policy statements and Presidential Decision Directives have reaffirmed the importance of an “active and influential” U.S. presence in Antarctica in support of U.S. leadership in the Antarctic Treaty governance process and as a geopolitical statement of U.S. worldwide interests. Currently, 45 countries have acceded to the Antarctic Treaty and have established research programs. The operation of the treaty is by unanimous consent, and the one country-one vote approach has meant in recent years that the influence of the United States has diminished and its leadership is challenged on a regular basis. However, as the lead proponent of the original treaty, the United States has established an influential presence in Antarctica. The nation has served a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the Antarctic Treaty, fostering an atmosphere of international cooperation and partnership.

The U.S. presence in Antarctica is established principally by the year-round occupation of three stations: McMurdo, Palmer, and South Pole. This presence secures the influential role of the United States in the treaty’s decision-making system and maintains the political and legal balance necessary to protect the U.S. position on Antarctic sovereignty. Many view the permanent year-round presence of the United States as a major deterrent to those countries that might otherwise wish to exercise their territorial claims. The South Pole Station is of particular importance to sovereignty concerns because the South Pole is at the apex of the areas claimed by the seven countries that assert territorial claims. Thus, scientific activity in the Antarctic is an instrument of foreign policy and should be conducted to support that policy.

The U.S. research presence in Antarctica currently relies on shipborne resupply, with the majority of fuel and cargo for the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP) delivered to McMurdo Station by tanker and container ship. Fuel and supplies are used either in McMurdo or are delivered to South Pole Station and to USAP’s various remote field locations by aircraft or overland traverse vehicles. The amount of fuel and cargo is so large (8,400,000 gallons of fuel [58,600,000 pounds] and 14,200,000 pounds of cargo in 2004-2005) that the only cost-effective means of transport with minimal risk is by ship.

Presently two ice-strengthened ships operated by the Military Sealift Command (MSC) bring in cargo and fuel and remove refuse. These ships require that large icebreaker(s) first open a shipping channel through the shore-fast ice to McMurdo Station, which in recent years has been up to 80 miles long and provide close escort to and from the ice pier. Ice conditions on the final 12 miles of the sea approach are typically challenging due to the presence of thick, multiyear ice. During the past six years, the break-in through McMurdo Sound has become increasingly more challenging. Until 2006, large icebergs in the Ross Sea blocked wind and currents from clearing the ice from McMurdo Sound, and the blockage increased the amount of harder, thicker, multiyear ice in the sound. The last six seasons have generally required two icebreakers to break and groom the channel and to escort transport ships through the channel.

Over the past several years, severe ice conditions in the Ross Sea necessitated two icebreakers to break the channel to McMurdo Station. In 2002-2003, POLAR STAR was not mission capable and the HEALY was diverted on short no-



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement