Rachel Becker, SLATE
30 March 2016
Thought scraping ice off your windshield was bad? Try shoveling it off the top of your submarine.
The U.S. Navy sent the submarines USS Hampton and USS Hartford to the Arctic for five weeks of biannual ice exercises, called ICEX2016. The submarine surfacing in this video is the USS Hartford, which left from Groton, Conn., to push through the ice near Camp Sargo, a command center floating on an ice sheet 200 miles north of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. After a crack in the ice appeared under Camp Sargo, 40 researchers were evacuated on Thursday, a week before the exercises were scheduled to end. The two submarines, however, are continuing their training and experiments.
Both the USS Hampton and the USS Hartford are Los Angeles Class submarines, which run on nuclear power and displace 6,900 tons of water when submerged. This class of submarine fits a crew of 140. Commander Tommy Crosby, a Submarine Force Atlantic spokesman who watched the USS Hartford surface, said that temperatures inside the sub hover around a luxurious 65 to 70 degrees, in stark comparison to the brutal 30-below-zero temperatures outside.
Ice exercises like this one have been conducted for decades, and, per Commander Crosby, are a combination of naval training and research expedition. Operating in the Arctic is particularly challenging, not just because of the cold water, but because the sea ice restricts a submarine’s access to the surface and interferes with both GPS and sonar navigational techniques.
Among the 35 organizations to participate, the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., has sent three teams of researchers to ICEX2016. One of these teams is investigating how Arctic conditions affect underwater acoustics and sonar. Another is using unmanned aerial and underwater vehicles to test navigation tools when surface ice blocks GPS signals and prevents surfacing. And a third team is setting up monitors to track how temperatures fluctuate at different depths. Water actually gets warmer at greater depths in the Arctic.
These ice exercises, Crosby said, help ensure the military can "operate when needed, whether it be transiting from one ocean to the other, or if any operations or science research that needs to take place in that area, we have the ability to do that.”
Undoubtedly, this is true. But also: it provides us with cool videos of nuclear submarines rising through Arctic ice. A solid outcome, no matter what else the exercises accomplish.