In a changing Arctic, a lone Coast Guard icebreaker maneuvers through ice and geopolitics

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

Coast Guard Ensign Ryan Carpenter peered north through a front window of this 420-foot-long ship, directing its bright-red hull through jagged chunks of ice hundreds of miles north of Alaska.

It was only the second time that Carpenter, 23, had driven the 16,400-ton USCGC Healy, one of the U.S. military’s two working polar icebreakers. He turned the ship slightly to the left in the sapphire-blue water, and a few seconds later, the ship’s bow rumbled through the crusty white ice floe at about 10 mph. Metallic shudders rippled throughout the vessel, a feeling that Arctic rookies often find unnerving.

Carpenter is part of an increasingly pointed U.S. strategy to prepare for competition — and possible conflict — in what was once a frosty no man’s land. The warming climate has created Arctic waterways that are growing freer of ice, and with China and Russia increasingly looking toward the region for resources, the United States is studying how many new icebreakers to build, whether to arm them with cruise missiles, and how to deal with more commercial traffic in an area that is still unpredictable and deadly.

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