The Realm of the Polar Bear

On Sunday afternoon August 16, the USCGC Healy passed through the Bering Strait and crossed the Arctic Circle (66°33’45.7 N). Those who have previously crossed the Arctic Circle are considered “polar bears,” and Coast Guard members with this distinction were allowed to wear special red shirts to celebrate the day, a splash of color added to their everyday navy blue uniforms. Sailing over major latitudinal lines is a right-of-passage that involves a secret initiation ceremony, most especially for equator crossings.

We sampled two stations within the Bering Strait along the border of the United States and Russia. Seawater flows through the strait into the Chukchi Sea which borders the Arctic Ocean and it’s important to characterize this water as it flows north. We do not have permission to sample Russian waters but stayed close enough to the border to capture water flowing through the middle of the strait. Pictured below, the ship is approaching the Diomede Islands in the center of the 51 mile wide Bering Strait – Big Diomede on the left is owned by Russia, and Little Diomede on the right is owned by the United States.

Diomede islands

Steaming towards the Diomede islands – Big Diomede Island (left, Russia) and Little Diomede (right, U.S.)

US Russia

Our path through the Bering Strait is outlined in red.

 

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