News: Coast Guard Research and Development Center tests Ice Radar Navigation System aboard Coast Guard Healy during Arctic deployment
Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert
ALASKA - With its ever-changing ice conditions, the Arctic can be a difficult area to navigate. Seasonal and other shifts in the amount of ice passing through the region require sensitive equipment for vessels to transit safely and, as part of the Coast Guard’s Artic Strategy, a team from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center is evaluating an ice radar system for use by Coast Guard crews operating in ice-filled waters.
During this year’s exercise, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy will use the radar to locate the ice conditions the team needs for testing. The Healy was outfitted with an ice radar navigation system that uses algorithms to process the cutter's installed radar system signal to provide higher fidelity information. RDC members hope the system’s ability to produce higher quality images will increase the crew’s ability to detect and classify ice at farther distances.
“The Coast Guard relies on radar to fulfill multiple vital missions including its science missions in the Arctic, which often rely on the crew’s ability to find suitable ice for conducting our tests,” said Alex Balsley, a project manager for the RDC traveling aboard the Healy. “Ice radars have the ability to help crews identify different types and thickness of ice. Having a more accurate picture of the ice ahead at a greater range means the crew can navigate icy waters more safely and efficiently.”
The benefits of finding the right radar system for Coast Guard use in the Arctic go beyond its applications for science missions however. Coast Guard crews involved in search and rescue and pollution response missions in the region would be able to decrease their transit times to mariners in distress or use detailed displays of surface ice to map out affected areas in the event of a spill.
“The processor we’re testing aboard the Healy this year processes a full 12-bit dynamic range of data versus the standard 2 to 4-bit range of standard radar navigation systems,” said Kurt Hansen, an oil spill subject matter expert for the RDC traveling aboard the Healy. “The crew of the Healy has a lot of experience in the Arctic and can give us a fairly accurate picture of what the ice is like three miles out from the cutter with standard radar. We want to see if we can extend that range to six or even nine miles with the new ice radar system.”
Though the Arctic is seeing more vessel traffic every year, sea ice remains an ever-present feature of the northern seas. Whether for scientific research, search and rescue or any one of its other missions, the Coast Guard will need accurate and reliable technologies to enhance its cold water capabilities.
“Scientists aboard the Healy are looking for very particular types of ice for their various tests, but the radar system processor we’re evaluating this year might benefit Coast Guard crews working in the Great Lakes or Boston or anywhere else that gets ice on the water,” said Balsley. “Increasing the Coast Guard’s ability to navigate quickly through or to the ice will save time, money, fuel and, most importantly, lives.”
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