Traverse City Record-Eagle

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September 5, 2013

Local makes waves in the Arctic

KETCHIKAN, ALASKA — Maxwell Walker, a Traverse City Central High School graduate, recently ventured into the Arctic Circle on the smallest ship the U.S. Coast Guard has ever sent into the frigid waters.

The journey’s purpose?

“To see if it could be done,” said Walker, 21, in a phone interview from his base in Ketchikan, Alaska. “It was the first of a kind for the Coast Guard and that small of boat. It was a test boat for the future.”

The idea for the small boat venture grew from the prospect of the Arctic Circle becoming a commercial shipping channel as the sea ice recedes, Walker said.

Indeed, a University of California study published in March said that by mid-century, even ordinary shipping vessels likely will be able to enter now inaccessible parts of the Arctic Ocean during the warmer parts of the year.

That’s meaningful for commercial shippers that could knock off time and miles trying to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through the Bering Strait, Walker said.

The UCLA findings, based on seven independent climate forecasts for 2040 to 2059, were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Plus, a scholarly journal.

Walker said that the U.S. Coast Guard routinely sent large vessels of up to 400 feet to the Arctic Circle each summer. This year, they decided to send a 110-foot patrol boat through the Bering Strait and beyond.

Walker missed the first week of the 40-day patrol that left on its 4,000 mile journey on June 21, but met up with the boat in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. From there he went north to Nome and the Kotzebue Sound, the northernmost salmon fishery in Alaska. The trip was uneventful from a weather standpoint, with no close calls or big waves, said Walker, adding he was too far south to see icebergs.

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