Thunder Bay’s icebreaking season
didn’t end until the first week of
April. After completing its deployment on the Hudson, it headed back
to its regular end-of-the-season
responsibilities on the Kennebec
and Penobscot as part of the “spring
breakout,” Bender said.
The breakout involves breaking
up ice accumulations around bridge
abutments and other obstacles, and
choke points that could cause flooding in low-lying areas if left in place,
according to Stuck. That, too,
proved no easy task for Thunder Bay.
“Where we ran into a real challenge was on the Penobscot River
in Maine, specifically, near Bangor,”
Bender said. “There was a dam removal project up river, the Veazie
Dam, and that caused some
changes in the way ice forms on the
river and we saw some extreme
“We spent three days opening up the last mile of the
river where we worked, and we were seeing ice that was
forming 6 to 8 feet and beyond, it was built up in thickness. That was something where we had to back and ram
all day to gain just a few hundred yards. That was definitely some of the toughest going that we had.”
There really is little offseason for the First Coast Guard
District as far as ice is concerned. The district also is
home to the U.S. Coast Guard International Ice Patrol
(IIP), whose operations typically start about the same
time icebreaking is in full swing in the district and last
through the summer.
Based in New London, Conn., and operating out of St.
John’s, Newfoundland, aboard HC-130J long-range surveillance aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth
City, N.C., the IIP’s mission is to detect and track icebergs
in the North Atlantic Ocean. In cooperation with the U.S.
National Ice Center and Canadian Ice Service, it produces reports such as the North American Ice Service
Iceberg Chart to warn mariners where icebergs are from
February to September, when they pose the greatest
threat to the trans-Atlantic shipping lanes.
“Typically, we will leave the first week of February,”
CDR Gabrielle McGrath, commander of the IIP, said dur-
ing a phone interview from her office in New London.
“They are nine-day trips and we run on that schedule the
whole rest of the ice season until August, or when the
icebergs no longer threaten the transit and ship lanes.”
A crew of five IIP members will fly aboard the HC-
130J during each rotation, which will include about
five patrols, if conditions permit. Patrol flights can
cover as much as 30,000 to 40,000 square nautical
miles over as long as eight hours, during which the IIP
crew will monitor the ocean using a combination of
high-tech radar and electronic equipment and old-
fashioned look-out-the-window observation.
The same weather patterns that made for so much
work for First District icebreaking crews during the
past two winters kept the IIP crews on their toes as
well. In 2013, there were 13 icebergs in the shipping
lanes for the entire season, according to McGrath, who
is in her second tour with the IIP. Last year, there were
1,546, the sixth most ever recorded. The current season is “tracking in the mid-850s,” she said.
“Something that we look at very closely when considering how severe of a season we’re going to have is
the North Atlantic Oscillation [NAO]. That is basically
an index of the difference in the sea level pressure
between the Atlantic low and the Azores high. If that
NAO index is positive, which means basically offshore
winds off of Newfoundland and Labrador, that means
that the sea ice will grow,” McGrath said.
Sea ice, which is frozen sea water, can act as a buffer
for an iceberg, which is freshwater ice that has broken
off a glacier or ice shelf, protecting it from wave deterioration, she explained. This then increases the chance
the iceberg can survive long enough to drift into the sea
lanes, a process that can take as long as two years.
The Coast Guard 65-foot harbor tug Bridle breaks ice on the Penobscot River
in Maine March 17. Icebreaking operations along the river continued into April.