More than science at risk as U.S. icebreakers age


  • Sarah Zielinski


With only two operational icebreakers, and one of those near the end of its lifespan, the U.S. National Science Foundation has developed contingency plans to ensure access to the polar regions for science. However, the U.S. government may need to acquire new icebreakers if the nation requires access for other purposes in addition to science, such as commerce and national security, according to a recent report from a committee of the U.S. National Research Council (NRC).

Hajo Eicken, from the Geophysical Institute of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a member of the NRC committee, said that as polar ice conditions and temperatures become more “benign,” “industry, law enforcement, and various other activities are actually going to move into these areas.” However, he said that because of the nature of geography and ice circulation, there will be “more critical situations that require support by heavy polar-class icebreakers.”