Supply Ships Arrive in Antarctica for Operation Deep Freeze
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 2013 A hulking Military Sealift Command-chartered tanker ship is expected to begin offloading millions of gallons of fuel in Antarctica today as part of the Defense Department’s Operation Deep Freeze mission, which supplies the National Science Foundation at one of the world’s most remote scientific outposts.
Military Sealift Command-chartered container ship MV Ocean Giant, prepares to leave Port Hueneme, Calif., with nearly 7 million pounds of supplies, vehicles and electronic equipment and parts, Jan. 17, 2013. The ship is slated to begin offloading at McMurdo Station, Antarctica, as part of Operation Deep Freeze’s support to the National Science Foundation. U.S. Navy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
MT Maersk Peary, which left Europe in December, is scheduled to begin discharging more than 6 million gallons of diesel and jet fuel and gasoline at McMurdo Station, Sarah Burford, a Military Sealift Command spokeswoman, told American Forces Press Service.
A container ship that left California in January, MV Ocean Giant, then will deliver nearly 7 million pounds of frozen and dry food, building supplies, vehicles, electronic equipment and parts, and other supplies. Sailors from Navy Cargo Handling Battalion 1 are preparing to work around the clock for eight days to offload the supplies at a 500-foot-long ice pier that juts into the Antarctic Ocean, Burford said.
The deliveries represent 100 percent of the fuel and about 80 percent of the supplies the researchers and support personnel in Antarctica will need to survive and work over the course of a year, she said.
Air Mobility Command augments this support, airlifting passengers, perishable goods and time-sensitive materials in and out of Antarctica, and between sites within the continent, explained Air Force Col. Howard McArthur, U.S. Transportation Command’s West Division operations chief.
For this year’s Operation Deep Freeze mission, C-17 Globemaster III and ski-equipped LC-130 Hercules aircraft began air support missions in the fall.
The air and surface deliveries, conducted by Transcom in support of U.S. Pacific Command, are part of a historic Defense Department mission in one of the world’s coldest, windiest, highest and most inhospitable environments.
Operation Deep Freeze has been supporting the National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, for almost 60 years. It’s an extension of a mission the Navy started almost 200 years ago. In 1839, Navy Capt. Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. naval expedition into Antarctic waters. Navy Adm. Richard E. Byrd followed in his footsteps, establishing naval outposts on the Antarctic coast in 1929, and later that year, he made the first flight over the South Pole.
In 1946, Byrd organized the Navy’s Operation Highjump, which included more than 4,000 people and numerous ships and other craft operating in the Ross Sea.
In 1955, the Navy conducted the first Operation Deep Freeze.
Today, Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica, led by Pacific Air Forces at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, brings together active, reserve and National Guard assets from the Air Force, Navy, Army and Coast Guard, as well as Defense Department civilians. This year’s task force includes C-17 support from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; LC-130 support from the New York Air National Guard; sealift support from the Coast Guard and Military Sealift Command; engineering and aviation services from Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command and cargo handling from the Navy.
Together, this team provides the aircraft, shops and logistical expertise needed to support research in what may well be the most isolated and challenging part of the globe, officials said. They coordinate strategic intertheater airlift, tactical deep field support, aeromedical evacuation support, search and rescue response, sealift, seaport access, bulk fuel supply, port cargo handling and transportation requirements.
Last year alone, they delivered more than 3,250 passengers, 10,000 short tons of cargo and 5 million gallons of fuel in support of the National Science Foundation, Transcom officials reported.
Although the mission takes place during the Antarctic summer, harsh and unpredictable weather has always been a challenge, McArthur said. Ships typically must arrive between January and March, and require an icebreaker to cut a channel through a thick ice shelf for them to reach McMurdo Station.
Surprisingly, bitter cold isn’t always the biggest operational hurdle.
“During the past couple of years, the warmer temperatures have actually been more of a challenge than the cooler temperatures,” McArthur said. It made the ice pier too unstable to support dry cargo operations last year, requiring soldiers from the 331st Transportation Company to build a floating dock. This year, volcanic dirt that blew onto the ice runway during a December storm absorbed solar energy, causing extensive snow melt, McArthur said.
“But they are working around that and providing the support that is needed,” he said, calling it an example of Transcom’s commitment to deliver for its customers -- in this case, interagency partners at the National Science Foundation.
“Whether it is in the Antarctic or some other location in the world, we stand ready to provide flexible support … and ensure that the mission is executed,” he said.
Demanding, unpredictable conditions require planning and teamwork, said Tom Broad, the team lead for Military Sealift Command Pacific’s sealift pre-positioning and special missions.
“We can’t always know what will happen,” Broad said. “Because of this, we really have to function as a team, not just within the Navy, but with all the other organizations who participate in this mission, to ensure that we get the critical cargo onto the ice, and on time, to support the people who live and work there.”
That’s what makes Operation Deep Freeze so important to the U.S. Antarctic Program, said Army Capt. Sylvester Moore, commander of Military Sealift Command Pacific.
“Without this resupply mission, all operations in Antarctica would end, and the scientific community would lose the opportunity to conduct research and study not only the continent of Antarctica, but its impact on our global climate,” he said.
(Sarah Burford of Military Sealift Command contributed to this article.)