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U.S. Fleet Forces Command (USFFC)

Navy’s weather, ice experts the first line of defense for personnel training and researching in the dangerous Arctic

by Lt. Seth Koenig
08 March 2022
Lt. Colleen Wilmington, assigned to the Naval Ice Center (NAVICE) in Suitland, Maryland, is pictured outside an airplane hangar in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Wilmington is serving as the officer in charge of a four-person meteorological team from NAVICE and Strike Group Oceanography Team (SGOT) Norfolk supporting the U.S. Navy’s Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022.
220220-N-YS525-002 PRUDHOE BAY, ALASKA (Feb. 20, 2022) – Lt. Colleen Wilmington, assigned to the Naval Ice Center (NAVICE) in Suitland, Maryland, is pictured outside an airplane hangar in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Wilmington is serving as the officer in charge of a four-person meteorological team from NAVICE and Strike Group Oceanography Team (SGOT) Norfolk supporting the U.S. Navy’s Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022. ICEX 2022 is a three-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Seth Koenig/RELEASED)
Lt. Colleen Wilmington, assigned to the Naval Ice Center (NAVICE) in Suitland, Maryland, is pictured outside an airplane hangar in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Wilmington is serving as the officer in charge of a four-person meteorological team from NAVICE and Strike Group Oceanography Team (SGOT) Norfolk supporting the U.S. Navy’s Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022.
220220-N-YS525-002
220220-N-YS525-002 PRUDHOE BAY, ALASKA (Feb. 20, 2022) – Lt. Colleen Wilmington, assigned to the Naval Ice Center (NAVICE) in Suitland, Maryland, is pictured outside an airplane hangar in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Wilmington is serving as the officer in charge of a four-person meteorological team from NAVICE and Strike Group Oceanography Team (SGOT) Norfolk supporting the U.S. Navy’s Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022. ICEX 2022 is a three-week exercise that allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Seth Koenig/RELEASED)
Photo By: Lt. Seth Koenig
VIRIN: 220219-N-YS525-0022
For U.S. Navy Sailors living on a sheet of floating ice in the Arctic Ocean, the weather is perhaps their most dangerous enemy. Windchill temperatures can plummet to -60 degrees Fahrenheit, which can freeze exposed skin within minutes. The ice under the Sailors’ tents can crack, risking a fall into the perilously cold seas below. And the winds and currents can carry the entire floating ice camp beyond the reach of nearby rescue aircraft.

In an environment like this, the Navy’s meteorological specialists are the first line of defense between the vulnerable ice camp personnel and those dangerous conditions. At Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2022, the Navy has built Ice Camp Queenfish on a floe of Arctic ice approximately 175 nautical miles off the coast of Alaska.

“It’s critically important to our Arctic operations to always have the latest information about the unpredictable weather, ice thickness and temperatures in this region,” said Rear Adm. Richard Seif, commander of the Navy’s Undersea Warfighting Development Center in Groton, Connecticut, and ranking officer at ICEX 2022. “It’s no exaggeration to say that we could not successfully execute ICEX 22 without the work of highly trained Navy meteorologists and scientists, who use the latest in satellite technology and forecasting equipment to keep our team aware of this constantly changing environment.”

Lt. Colleen Wilmington is leading a four-person meteorological team at ICEX 2022 - two from the U.S. Naval Ice Center (NAVICE) in Suitland, Maryland, and two from the expeditionary Strike Group Oceanography Team (SGOT) based in Norfolk, Virginia.

Working closely with scientists at the Navy’s Arctic Submarine Laboratory (ASL), the organization charged with planning, coordinating and executing the ICEX, Wilmington’s team has girded ice camp leaders with confidence its resident Sailors and researchers are as safe as possible.

While the danger is real, the meteorologists used satellite readings to direct ASL scout teams to an ice floe that’s a sturdy 10 feet in thickness, and worked with ASL scientists to deploy sensors at the camp to track early warning signs of cracking ice.

“We're looking for ice fractures - monitoring to see if the ice is breaking up - and any winds that would really move the camp,” said Wilmington.
“We're also watching currents, to see how much that moves the ice.”

Alexandra Darden, NAVICE master ice analyst supporting ICEX, added that her team has “model data that will tell us, based on weather and drift and other indicators, whether there’s a low risk, medium risk or high risk for ice fracturing in a given area.”

The team tracks the latest temperatures and windchills closely, with a two-person team at the ice camp communicating regularly with a two-person team stationed on the mainland in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Their information guides not only personnel on the ice floe, who must make decisions about when to go outside for training and research - and for how long - but also the flights traveling to and from the camp with supplies and passengers.

“Because it's a data sparse environment, weather can change really quickly,” Wilmington said. “Right now we're pushing to forecast out about 36 hours, but beyond that, it's really difficult. It's really a matter of looking at it constantly and using as much available data as possible to get a look at what's going on.”

With the peace of mind knowing the weather and ice experts are making sure they’re on solid ice, Ice Camp Queenfish personnel can focus on their training and research.

ICEX 2022 is a joint combined exercise that takes place over the course of about three weeks north of the Arctic circle, with personnel stationed not only at Ice Camp Queenfish, but also Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and two operational U.S. Navy submarines. ICEX allows the Navy to assess its operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations.

NAVICE and SGOT-Norfolk are two subordinate commands of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command (CNMOC), which directs and oversees more than 2,500 globally-distributed military and civilian personnel who collect, process and exploit environmental information to assist Fleet and Joint Commanders in all warfare areas to make better decisions faster than the adversary.
 
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