A Coast Guard cutter has reached the planet’s southernmost navigable waters, setting a new record

An ice shelf seen from the deck of a ship
Shown is the edge of the ice shelf in the southernmost navigable water from the crows nest of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star on Feb. 17, 2022. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Diolanda Caballero/U.S. Coast Guard)

The nation’s only heavy icebreaker reached the southernmost navigable waters on the planet last month, setting a new world record.

Melting of the Ross Ice Shelf meant the Polar Star could sail into newly navigable waters. The shelf is a huge frozen block about the size of France. In some areas, it can be nearly 2,500 ft. thick.

The nearly 400-foot U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker reached a position of 78 degrees, 44 minutes, 1.32 seconds south latitude off the coast of Antarctica. That’s about 500 yards from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, beating out the current Guinness world record holder for the southernmost point reached by a ship, according to a Coast Guard statement.

Almost 25 years ago to the day, the Polar Star’s sister ship, the Polar Sea, set the previous record.

The deployment marks the Polar Star’s 25th journey to the earth’s southernmost continent, supporting Operation Deep Freeze — an annual mission to resupply American scientists doing research near the South Pole.

During Polar Star’s transit, it surveyed nearly 400 nautical miles of the ice shelf, providing information that can be used by other ships in the future.

“The crew of Polar Star is proud to follow in the footsteps of legendary Antarctic explorers,” said Capt. Bill Woityra, commanding officer of Polar Star, in a statement. “We carry on that legacy of exploration, reaching new places, and expanding human understanding of our planet.”

This mission marks the Polar Star’s first return to Antarctica since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last winter, instead of going south, the 46-year-old icebreaker sailed in the Arctic. During that deployment, it stopped in the Port of Dutch Harbor for the first time since 2013. 

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