NOAA services critical to Alaska
refueling operation

Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, the Coast Guard's only operational icebreaker, leads the 370-foot Russian tanker Renda closer to Nome Jan. 14, 2012. The Renda is carrying 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products to deliver to Nome residents.

High resolution (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen.)


A pending shortage of fuel in the ice-bound city of Nome, Alaska, generated an unusual winter delivery from the Russian fuel tanker Renda and its escort, the icebreaking U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, to resupply the remote community with heating oil and gasoline.

During the operation, which spanned December through January, the two ships relied on NOAA for critical weather and sea ice information to navigate this year’s extreme ice-pack and ensure a safe fuel transfer.   

In mid-December, the U.S. Coast Guard Seventeenth District in Juneau phoned Kathleen Cole, a sea ice forecaster at NOAA’s National Weather Service’s (NWS) Anchorage forecast office, to request support for the Nome refuel supply operation. The fuel tanker had just left Korea and would join the icebreaker Healy in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Over the next 45 days, NWS Anchorage and Fairbanks forecast offices provided weather forecasts and ice analyses for the Nome refueling mission. Meanwhile, the NOAA National Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration prepared contingency plans in the event of an oil spill.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

Two fuel transfer hoses run side-by-side from the tanker vessel Renda to the Nome harbor Jan. 16, 2012. The hoses began transferring more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel from the tanker to the town later that day. 

High resolution (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst. )

"The Anchorage and Fairbanks forecast offices provided outstanding support to the Healy throughout this operation," said Captain Beverly Havlik, commanding officer of the Healy. “They reconciled numerous ice images, evaluated weather patterns, and predicted ice growth and drift rates. They also methodically mapped out the routing measures for the two vessels and tracked the progress from beginning to end.”

The National Ice Center (NIC) — a multi-agency operational center operated by NOAA, the U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard — played a key role in the mission. In addition to visible and infrared data, the center provided more than 50 radar satellite images to the Anchorage forecast office sea ice desk that helped forecasters with ice analyses and ship routing.

NOAA participated in daily conference calls to coordinate information with 22 organizations involved with the operation. NWS personnel led the briefings with ice analyses and weather forecasts. That forecast information helped Healy officers safely navigate the nearly 865-mile, round-trip journey through ice that was up to 3 feet thick and in temperatures of minus 20-30 degrees F below zero and wind chills to minus 50 degrees.

Coast Guard Cutter Healy.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy makes a pass by the tanker vessel Renda while freeing the tanker from the ice Jan. 20, 2012. The two vessels arrived just off the coast of Nome Jan. 12, 2012 for the Renda to transfer fuel to the city.

High resolution (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst .)

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey harvested multi-beam bathymetry data from the Healy to ensure the approaches to Nome were still navigable in spite of recent storm activity. The data were used to produce ice overlays on nautical charts that were shared with the Coast Guard.

Once the vessels safely reached Nome’s harbor, the tanker Renda was deliberately frozen in place to prepare for offloading the fuel. Forecasters calculated the time needed to refreeze the ice surrounding the ship to ensure a stable surface for fuel transfer. NOAA’s ice and weather forecasters continued to provide weather and ice information to assist with the vessels' outbound transit through the ice-pack. 

The success of this first-ever attempt to supply fuel to an Arctic Alaska settlement through sea ice - and the data captured - will benefit future operations in this remote area of the United States.

Learn more about the parts of NOAA involved

Posted Feb. 3, 2012 NOAA logo.