Final Post: Ice and Guardians of the Coast

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 The newest one, the Mackinaw, came into service in early 2000, is already nearing her operational limit and is vastly out of date technology-wise.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.

Cryovolcanoes: Icy Killers

When you think of volcanoes, you usually think of tall mountains spewing fiery red lava and ash clouds, right? Probably what was occuring during the dinosaur era? Vesuvius, St. Helen, Fuji, Krakatoa? Ice, snow, and freezing water probably aren’t the first things you think of. But could it happen? Could a volcano pour freezing water or methane? Would be technically be lava since it would be terribly cold? Say hello to the Ice Volcanoes. Why is this important to North American geography? It may not be as exciting as seeing a lava flow or hot water coming from a geyser field, but to understand more about how ice works, seeing what happens during these fleeting and odd natural occurrences might help teach people how to be careful and respect the natural boundaries of Mother Nature and humans.

Cryovolcanoes (more common in space) Ice volcanoes are cones of ice shelves that cling close to the coastline and form a sort of funnel. As waves break on the shore, the water slips underneath and spouts upward through the hole. As the water is moving, it does not freeze, yet once erupted and lands around the hole, it adds an additional layer of ice and slush, causing it to grow in size. However, this can only be done under very specific conditions. One, the temperatures need to be cold enough for it to form and take shape. Also, if the winds are too much, it’ll just pile up on the shore, not allowing the ice to freeze along the hidden coastline. While they do not usually get larger than 4-5 feet on the surface, it is not impossible for them to reach much larger heights, with eruptions reaching up to 30 feet, like the geysers in Yellowstone.

So, why is this dangerous? Unfortunately, the entrance to the hole can be volatile and cause idiot curious people and other creatures to fall in, and if the freezing cold water doesn’t kill or freeze them, they will have nearly no way to get out of there. Climbing on the surrounding ice shelf is dangerous enough, as the waves cause it to buckle and crack.

Ice volcanoes are not exclusive to Earth, but are unique. Cryovolcanoes are must larger and more powerful for they exist on the surface of icy moons in our solar system. The most prominent example is that of Doom Mons, a series of mountain ranges on Saturn’s moon, Titan. With similar cold temperatures, they act like geyers of ice, spewing freezing levels of water mixed with methane, carbon dioxide and ammonia, yet like our own ice volcanoes they do not last very long and are usually very quiet.

Overall, these eruptions are beautiful to behold but like any other natural phenomenon, very unwise to be careless around them. Observe and admire from a distance, but stay away if you value your life.

Speed O’ The Wind in the Alley

Located in the American Midwest, the area from northern Texas to the southern South Dakota (see what I did there) that is known for its large number of tornadoes. While they can happen at any point of the year, tornado season usually occurs around mid to late spring in March till May. The conditions are ideal for tornadoes (flat, dry, grassy, non-obscured terrain) and can produce the largest scale of tornadoes.

The Ol’ Tennessee Valley Authority

In short, the TVA is an an organization to assist in flooding, electrical, manufacturing, and navigation along the Tennessee River Valley area. Created around 1933, after the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt, to provide jobs for people in the region and to help the economy which was prone to wide range flooding. In later years, hydroelectric dams were constructed to ensure a constant flow of energy, and control to the natural course.

Wyoming: Soul of the True West

Moving away from the waterfront of the Great Lakes, we travel westward to the Cowboy state, home of Buffalo Bill, and Old Faithful geyser, Wyoming. There are several songs and movies I wanted to choose from but this song, “Wyoming Where I Belong” by Annie & Amy was the best I could’ve found.


Let the rivers flow through the Big Horn Mountains,
Hear the mighty winds blow across the western plains,
Oh take me home where I belong,
Wyoming, Wyoming, where I belong.

The Black Hills rise over Thunder Basin,
The Sweet water runs across the Great Divide,
The wind rivers sweep into the North Platte Valley,
Wyoming, Wyoming, where I belong.
Wyoming, Wyoming, where I belong.

A spirit calls to us from the High Absarokas,
The Snake River roars where the eagle soars,
Oh save this land, save it for our children,
Wyoming, Wyoming, where I belong.
Wyoming, Wyoming, where I belong.
Wyoming, Wyoming, Wyoming, Wyoming, where I belong.

So what does this all mean? Each of the places are important to the geography/topography of the state. Rolling hills, rivers and lakes, plains, valleys, geyser fields, its most iconic feature: mountain ranges. The writers and performers, Annie and Amy Smith sing this in a soft, gentle tone, while images of the landscape. The guitar and soft vocals provide a sense of nostalgia, rustic charm, mystery and majestic sense to the song.

Overall, few people know what Wyoming is truly like (some even doubt its a state) but hopefully this song can show off the spirit of the mountaineer and a new world to others

Blog 7: Final Thoughts and Map

Ultimately, the nature of the Lakes mirrors that of the oceans in its own small universe: deadly and untamable. Can it be saved or is it destined to suffer at the hands of human effects? Only time will tell.

November 10, 1975: The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Blog 7 Part 6: Depth and Temperature

Like with most large bodies of water, it is most often only seen on the surface and not what lies underneath. These maps show the recent temperatures recorded in 2020 and the recorded depth of the Lakes.

Blog 7 Part 5: Coasties

As I personally finish up school, I am looking toward the next step in my career, life in the U.S. Coast Guard. Finding this map and particularly this website listed below was quite rewarding. The maps show the 9th Division where Coast Guard stations are in and around the Lakes but the website is full of more maps and facts about them.

Blog 7 Part 4: Routes and Rails

A segway from just concerning the waters themselves, but also the shipping routes and at least one railways system in the regions in 1907. By this point people had well figured out the main layout of the Lakes and had maps designed accordingly.

Blog 7 Part 3: Broader Sense of the West

Map of the Great Lakes and the “Western Territory” by John Cary made in 1805. Still a rather confusing setup by today’s standards but more detail of the landscape and the sheer size of the Lakes.

Fun Tip: People think the Great Lakes aren’t as large as they are made out to be but it can take ferries and cargo ships several days to cross the entire distances. Superior is aptly named for being the largest of all, over 350 miles. And that is assuming weather is good all the time, which it NEVER is.

Blog 7 part 1: Gitche Gumee and Beasts

A new series, a new section. All about my favorite water themed place on the planet: The Great Lakes. Over the span of two weeks this will cover old antique maps of the lakes up till more recent years (possibly using maps used by the Coast Guard) Let the fun begin boys and girls!

1669 map of the lakes, map by Italian cartographer, Vincenzo Coronelli. As is clear, maps back then were done in an irregular and often confusing manner, especially small scale maps (which show a larger less detailed area.) Written in Italian, this adds to the confusion yet for an older time the amount of precision on Superior (as the Native Americans call Gitche Gumee or Big Sea Water) and Michigan is relatively close.

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