Under the Ice in the Arctic


Up on the surface, each torpedo was recovered. The crews, some from the Applied Physics Lab at the University of Washington, had developed a melting tool to help them. When they found the torpedo, which transmitted a signal, the melter was placed over the ice and heated water helped "cut out" a cylinder of ice. The plug was pulled, divers jumped in to hook up chains, and a helicopter then pulled the torpedo through the hole.

Operations in the Arctic are key for the Navy.

"So you can imagine if the ice recedes, it could become a major shipping route," said Ott. "And the United States wants to be able to operate in that shipping route as we do in any place else in the world."

The countries around the Arctic want to do the same, especially considering the large amount of oil, gas and minerals believed to be below the seabed and the fishing grounds that would be opened up as well.

Already, the Russians have placed a flag on the seabed, at the North Pole, claiming it as their territory. Not surprisingly, the Russians were watching every move of the U.S. Navy during its exercises.

"I would expect the Russians would watch us via satellite or however they do that as they probably always do. I'm sure they are watching us right now as we speak," Ott said as he walked the ice camp with ABC News bundled up in a parka with wind chill temperatures about minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Ott also scoffed a bit about a news report that the Russians are putting together an Arctic Navy.

"You know, we already have an Arctic submarine fleet," he said. "So, I would say they are probably a little bit behind the power curve."

Life in the 'Ice Camp'

The scientists and sailors who are flown out to the "ice camp" live in plywood huts that were prefabricated in Seattle and assembled on the ice. Kerosene heaters keep the huts comfortable, but nothing there is really warm. There is no running water and the outhouses are, well, unheated. But the three cooks in the mess tent keep the crew fed, and there is always coffee available.

One job on the surface is to give the sub a target to surface through.

"They have shoveled the snow off the ice; the sunlight comes through much clearer," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Hover, the executive officer, looking at a video screen.

The Annapolis has one camera. It points upwards, and even 350 feet down the ice on the surface can be seen, as well as the spot where the snow has been shoveled.

"We want to pop up right there on the center of the X," said Hover.

But the surfacing will be a bit tricky. The spot they were working had become unstable.

"There were times when I surfaced one day, surfaced less than 24 hours later and the salinity and the temperature profile that we came through was completely different, causing us to change the way we did it from just 18 hours before," said Cmdr. Brunner.

The new post includes plenty of dangerous ice. The sailors call them keels. They are pieces of jagged ice that can reach more than 100 feet below the surface.

"Listen up," Brunner said into the sub's intercom microphone. "We need to make sure we're extra vigilant during this attempt. We are going to be threading the needle into a feature that's only 150 yards wide."

He said it would be like parking an S.U.V. into a parking space marked for a compact car. And it was clear the commander and the crew were a bit anxious about this surfacing.

"Vertical surface, vertical surface, vertical surface," went the call over the intercom to the crew.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...