This is it! Less than 2 weeks away from the end of the semester. As such, this post will talk about a subject that will be discussed in the final project and that means a lot to me personally, Coast Guard icebreaking in the Great Lakes.
Icebreakers are specially designed ships that are capable of crushing and clearing sea ice. Unlike other ships, their hulls are designed to slide slightly on top of the ice and allow its weight to crush it so that it can move forward. Heavier and more powerful than most ships, they are like oceangoing bulldozers. Most countries these days that deal with shipping have icebreakers but it’s their Coast Guard that is responsible for them.
Founded in 1790 by Alexander Hamilton, the U.S. Revenue Marine was the second official military branch of the United States (so no it was not Navy!) changing its name to Revenue Cutter Service in 1863 and the Coast Guard in 1915. They are usually working as non-combative as they do maritime service/protection/management, drug and migrant interdiction, search and rescue, and ice patrol, showing that they are the most versatile branch of the armed forces in spite of their small size. Working in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific Oceans, and the Great Lakes, the “Coasties” have a small number of vessels that handle ice patrols, 2 heavy breakers in the Atlantic Ocean and one heavy in the Great Lakes. This poses one of many problems.
Unlike the Navy, Marines, Army, and Air Force, the CG receives very little funding and support despite their day to day work and as such, their icebreakers are falling apart. The newest one, the Mackinaw, came into service in early 2000, is already nearing her operational limit and is vastly out of date technology-wise. The other two heavy breakers, the Healy and Polar Star, are the oldest and were constructed in the late 70’s, far past their operational limits yet still going. Lack of parts, funding, understaffed and failing tech means little chance for the CG to do their job effectively. And then of course there’s climate change.
A bastardized term, as the world’s climate is always changing (it’s just how the planet works people, get over it!) but there have been increasingly high levels of sea water. Unfortunately, this applies to the Great Lakes as well, and during the winter months, the ice fields have gotten larger and thicker. Not only does this cause damage to other ships, it pushes against the coastline, damaging bridges, factories, and homes. While the last bad ice cover was in 2019, it’s the ice jams that cause the biggest problems, for as the ice melts, it pushes against the dams and causes severe flooding if not broken up effectively at sea and in the ports. Believe it or not, the Lakes and other shipping lanes are valuable to us. Without materials from the upper peninsula, we wouldn’t have half the things we do (metals, wires, car parts, fish, and other supplies.) Planes and trucks are more expensive overall and cannot provide the same amount of supply that large vessels can.
In the end, this isn’t to say “join the CG! They need help!” but to show what they are dealing with and the environmental problems that are occuring along the coastlines of the U.S.