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Journals 2008/2009

Steve Howard
Meadowdale Middle School, Lynnwood, Washington

"Seafloor Mapping in support of the Law of the Sea
U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy
August 12, 2008 - September 5, 2008
Journal Index:
August 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18
           19 - 20 - 21 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 25
           26 - 27 - 28 - 30 - 31
September 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

August 24, 2008
Into The Belly Of The Whale
Current Postion Long: 149 14.243 W    Lat: 81 3.962 N.

Before we get into today's journal, here's a quick update on our path: we have been carefully mapping the southeastern extent of our transect, and will now be heading back up north and east for a number of days, ultimately reaching our closest point to the North Pole. Then we will begin the long route back toward Barrow. The seafloor mapping continues to go relatively smoothly, although smashing through the ice often creates challenges to the system with "noise" in the data that must be carefully considered and selected out.

Our current position

Today a few of us were treated to a very comprehensive tour of the ships "innards," by which I mean all the engineering spaces, storage, electrical systems, generators, and so forth. The tour was lead by Master Chief Electrician Curt Podhora. It didn't take long before I was completely lost, going up and down ladders and in and out of bulkhead doors as we worked our way through the maze of machinery and computerized and electrical systems that keep the Healy purring along. The scale and complexity of these systems boggles the mind, and I won't pretend to have grasped more than a fraction of all we saw on this tour. But, here are some of the basics...

The Healy, which is the newest icebreaker in the Coast Guard fleet (commissioned in 2000), has four immense engines which are driven by four equally immense diesel driven generators. It burns about 400 to 500 gallons of diesel fuel per hour (not great mileage, but hey, your Prius isn't 420 feet long!) to drive the two sixteen foot diameter propellers, which can move the Healy at a maximum speed of 17 knots in open water. The system is constantly monitored by Coast Guard personnel, who keep an eye on the 5800 sensors distributed throughout the system which alert those on duty if anything is amiss. Because the Healy is a vessel which spends months at a time in remote areas, it must be completely self-sufficient, managing it's own sewage, making it's own drinking water (6,500 gallons per day) using saltwater distilling machines, recycling and incinerating its own trash, generating its own electricity, and so forth. Folks like Chief Podhora and the crew have to rely on expertise and resourcefulness to fix things that are broken and improvise solutions when parts are unavailable (you can't just call Napa out here in the Arctic). Traveling through the inner workings of the ship, you find pipes of all dimensions running everywhere. I have to admit, after a few hours I became pretty overwhelmed with both the scale and the complexity of these systems, and I kept thinking about how much time and experience would be required to understand how to manage it all. Whether you are at the bow watching the ship cut through six-foot ice or in your stateroom brushing your teeth, it's easy to forget all the machinery that is necessary to keep the ship moving or the water running. My great respect goes out to the men and women working tirelessly below our feet who make all this happen.

The control room where engine and operational systems are monitored 24/7
Two of the four engines that run the Healy

Pipes, gauges, wires, controls, and computers run throughout the Healy's innards.

Adriane Colburn is an artist who uses maps, diagrams, and other visual data in her work. "When you are making art, you are taking information about the world we live in and making it visual," Adriane points out. "Through maps and diagrams, science does the same thing." Adriane has used many different maps in her work, from historical diagrams showing city development to human body systems to underground sewer lines. Her primary medium is paper, and a number of her works deal with juxtapositions of past and present. Adriane became acquainted with the Healy's seafloor mapping work when she was doing a piece on the Arctic, and sees artistic expression in the computer-generated three-dimensional maps that have been produced. Adriane finds a rich source of material for art in the Arctic, with its environmental, political, scientific, and human impact ramifications. I hope she will keep us all in the loop on the creative work that comes from her time on the Healy. If you would like to see more of Adriane's work, her website is

Adriane Colburn having a bit of fun on the Healy