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KNBA News - President Obama announces plans to add to U.S. fleet of icebreakers

Sep 2, 2015

9/2/15

Yesterday, President Obama announced he wants to beef up the nation's fleet of icebreakers. We have more on that below. First is this report from APRN's Washington, D.C. correspondent, who followed the President in Seward.

President Obama highlights climate change effects to Exit Glacier

By Liz Ruskin, APRN

Obama indulged his sweet tooth in southcentral Alaska, and mother nature indulged him with stunning fall weather. His morning began at Snow City Café, in downtown Anchorage, where he bought cinnamon rolls. Then he flew by helicopter to Seward. As the temperature rose to the sixties, he walked the path to Exit Glacier, and delivered a climate change message to a herd of journalists..

"The reductions to the glacier are accelerating rapidly each and every year. And this is as good of a signpost of what we're dealing with when it comes to climate change as just about anything." 

While the reporters were sent back to the trailhead and the press vans, Obama went on to film an episode of a reality TV show, "Running Wild with Bear Grylls." In the afternoon, the president stopped in at a gelato shop in downtown Seward called Sweet Darlings. The president bought ice cream for reporters and members of his entourage.

Obama asked, "Chocolate cone or a cup?" 

"Cup please. Thank you, sir," replied a member of the entourage.

"Anybody else?" Obama asked.

Throughout the day, Obama’s motorcade passed crowds of well-wishers. Some held signs thanking him for restoring the name Denali to Alaska’s highest peak. A few protesters waved “Shell No” signs, but one large banner praised his decision to let Shell drill in the Chukchi Sea. It’s a policy green groups complain undercuts the main theme of the trip -- Obama’s call to cut carbon emissions. On the street outside the ice cream shop, if there were critics in the crowd, they kept quiet. Obama reached across the security line to shake hands and greet children.

He heard lots of thank yous, and thanks for coming to Alaska. He called to one boy, "Hey, you still have ice cream on you!"

"It’s not ice cream! It’s hot chocolate.”.

"Oh, hot chocolate. Do I have any ice cream on me?" asked Obama.

"No," the boy called back.

At the Seward harbor, with sunlight shimmering on the water, Obama boarded a tour boat to see Resurrection Bay and Bear Glacier. Journalists followed in another vessel, and the two boat captains circled each other to line up the perfect shot for the cameras, with Obama, on the bow, gesturing toward the river of blue ice, and the icebergs  the president said were as big as a Costco store.

And then, with the sun low and the mountaintops turning gold, Obama rode back to the Seward airport. Before boarding Marine 1, Obama walked down the tarmac to thank the two manning the Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department truck, then shook hands with five orange-suited Coasties. They were the team of the medivac helicopter on standby while the president was on the bay. 

President Obama wants to beef up America’s fleet of ice-breaking ships.

By John Ryan, KUCB - Unalaska

President Obama made the announcement Tuesday before stepping on a non-ice-breaking tour boat to see the glaciers of Kenai Fjords National Park. He proposes to speed up construction of a heavy icebreaker by two years. He wants the new ship to be polar-ready by the year 2020.

Obama also said he plans on working with Congress to plan for an expanded fleet of ice breakers.

The U.S. Coast Guard has two icebreakers in working condition. Russia has about 40. Canada, Finland and Sweden each have six or more.

The Congressional delegations of Alaska and Washington state have long called for more ice breakers. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office says Obama’s announcement is less a plan than an acknowledgment that the needs must be addressed.

One of the Coast Guard’s two working icebreakers is currently at 87.5 degrees north latitude. It’s a few days away from the North Pole on a science mission.

Chief scientist David Kadko with Florida International University says the ice has been thinner than anticipated. That’s allowed the Healy to burn less fuel breaking through the ice and it’s made the work of the 51 scientists on board smoother. German and Canadian icebreakers are also cruising the Arctic for science this summer.

"It’s quite historic," said Kadko. "Three icebreakers from three different countries working together, collaboratively.”

The three ships are working to get a baseline of conditions throughout the Arctic Ocean. They want that snapshot of the Arctic before the expected increase in shipping and resource extraction brings more pollution to the top of the world.

Climate change is the main theme of the president’s highly publicized three-day tour of Alaska. The president has not taken any questions from the media, and he is not expected to do so while he’s here.

The White House press office said Tuesday that it will increase ongoing efforts to chart navigation routes through the Aleutians and Bering Sea and more closely monitor sea level and sea ice in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

President Obama is flying to Dillingham and Kotzebue today (WED), the final day of his Alaska trip. The White House says he’ll announce a new role for the Denali Commission in helping Alaska communities respond to climate-change impacts.