A cut above: Ice breaker makes a splash in Antarctica

In early January, Healy, a US Coast Guard Cutter set off from its base in Seattle on a mission to the South Pole to help fellow ice breaker the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Sea. The goal of the ice breaker is to chomp though chunks of ice in the Ross Sea, creating a path in the sea en route to its destination, McMurdo Sound.

"We are deploying to ensure that Operation Deep Freeze 2003 (which is an annual mission to resupply and support scientific stations in Antarctica) is successfully completed," said Dan Everette, command security officer USCGC Healy.

The only way that McMurdo Sound can be reprovisioned (fuel, food supplies) is via ship. However, due to the heavy ice conditions currently being encountered down in Antarctica by the USCGC Polar Sea, the Healy was deployed to assist in breaking out a channel in McMurdo Sound and escorting the resupply ships in, Everette said.

While it sounds like a basic job for the ship -- to set forth and break ice, the Healy is more than just a cutter. It is a state-of-the-art vessel that carries not only crew members but scientists as well. "We were built primarily for science, and have scientists onboard when we deploy," Everette said.

And, in addition, the Healy has an impressive network to boot.

The vessel has two independent fibre networks onboard. One is for official Coast Guard business (Coast Guard Data Network), which has certain security requirements that would prevent scientist from maximising the network's capabilities.

The second network is specifically for science operations (Science Data Network).

According Sean Kuhn, an IT manager on the Healy, by having a system dedicated to science and the collection of Scientific Sensor Data, they are able to "fully use the capabilities of said system".

"Furthermore we do not have the same security restrictions that the Coast Guard System has and this enables us to allow the scientist more access to the system so they may utilise software programs that they bring, as well the transfer of data between one another and ship to shore."

The Science Data Network has multiple OSes in use, including Unix, Linux, Mac OS, Windows 2000 and OS/2.

"My guess is that when the systems were originally installed that having the different [operating] systems would allow for more accessability within the science community and would allow the Healy to be ready for any kind of operating systems brought on board," he said.

All up the Healy's Science Data Network has 12 workstations running Windows, Macintosh and UNIX. It also supports two thermosalinographs, two charge-transfer devices that are running on Seasoft Software and two Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers. It also carries one expandable Bathy thermograph, Bathy 2000 echsounder, Knudsen echosounder and Seabeam 2100 bottom mapping sonar.

While at sea the Healy's Internet connectivity is made possible by both Inmarsat and Iridium satellite phones, although Iridium does have a limited capability due to its speed limitations. However, there are other issues Healy faces when it makes its trips down South. "Probably the biggest headache is that the ship travels to the high latitudes, and outside satellite footprints. When we went to the North Pole in 2001, we overcame this by using the NASA TDRSS System, which was a big help," Everette said.

Healy departed Seattle on January 9 on its mission which is expected to take three months.

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