An Icy Partnership

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Science  14 Sep 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5844, pp. 1469
DOI: 10.1126/science.1149334

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Knowledge of the world's polar regions--Antarctica and the Arctic--is of international interest for economic, environmental, territorial, and security reasons. Studying these environments has been a cooperative activity among countries for half a century. Icebreaker ships have played a critical role. Unfortunately, the U.S. icebreaking capability has deteriorated substantially. Of the world's roughly 50 high-capability icebreakers (at least 10,000 horsepower and capable of steaming steadily through ice 4 to 8 feet thick), Russia possesses 15. Canada operates six. The U.S. government owns three, two of which are at the end of their 35-year service lives. This not only threatens U.S. access to these regions but also jeopardizes the ability of the U.S. research community to conduct solo and international research missions. A long-lived successful partnership between the polar research community and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), which operates the government icebreakers, has been built over decades. That partnership is unhealthy now and should be revitalized.