Cold snap forces Coast Guard icebreakers to get cracking

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Cold snap forces Coast Guard icebreakers to get cracking

The icebreaking season is off to an earlier start than last year in the gulf region, including the waters around Prince Edward Island.

The frigid temperatures in recent weeks have accelerated the growth of ice around most of P.E.I., with the exception of the eastern part of Kings County.

"Looking at last year, there was very little ice in the gulf at all, only a little bit of ice in the bays and harbours," said Trevor Hodgson, icebreaking superintendent for Coast Guard Atlantic Region, based in St. John's.

"This year we've actually seen it grow in a more normal trend so it's filled up the Northumberland Strait and other bays like Miramichi and Bay of Chaleur are starting to fill up with ice as well." 

Hodgson said ice that is just starting to form is more fragile and easier to break.

"If you look at the ice charts, it looks like there's lots of ice there but a lot of it's a little softer than it otherwise would appear," he said.

Arctic icebreakers en route

There are two icebreakers assisting marine traffic in the gulf, with at least two more expected to soon join them to help keep shipping lanes open.

Hodgson said Arctic icebreakers are being put into service in the region over the next couple of weeks.

"The thickness of the ice plays on the time it takes to do the escorts," Hodgson said. 

"As the season picks up, as ice gets thicker and traffic picks up, we'll have to prioritize more which ships we're doing and time it properly to make sure we can serve the most people at the best times."

The ice situation could also change, he said, with the weather system currently powering its way toward the Atlantic region.

"With the storm coming across the Gulf of St. Lawrence, we're expecting the waves to break up a lot of that ice," Hodgson said. 

"So we're going to be looking at a much different picture probably by the end of the weekend."

Aerial images

The Coast Guard posts weekly updates on the ice conditions, every Wednesday, with information gathered through an aerial reconnaissance team, the ships and satellite imagery.

"We also have a Coast Guard helicopter based in Charlottetown and Saint John that can fly over as required," Hodgson said.

Despite the extreme conditions that the crews will be working in, Hodgson says they're ready for whatever the winter of 2018 may bring.

"This is what we're waiting the rest of the year for, so it's good to see it's starting to progress."

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