UPDATE 2-U.S. Navy shuts Arctic submarine ice camp after cracks appear

Mon Mar 24, 2014 5:48pm EDT
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(Recasts with Navy decision, adds details throughout, video link)

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON, March 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy said on Monday it was dismantling a temporary ice camp used to support submarine exercises off the coast of Alaska a week early after cracks appeared in the ice and made it too risky to use airfields to ferry people and supplies.

"The rapidly changing conditions of the ice, along with extremely low temperatures and poor visibility have hampered helicopter operations and made sustaining the runway and camp too risky," the Navy division in charge of submarine forces said in a statement. It said all personnel at the camp were safe.

Navy officials said the instability of the ice underscored growing concern about the changing Arctic environment.

A breakdown of Camp Nautilus began on Sunday, the Navy said in the statement. The camp was due to continue supporting submarine exercises below the surface through March 30.

Substantial shifts in wind direction created instability in the Arctic Ocean's wind-driven ice floes, resulting in fractures in ice near the camp that prevented the use of several airfields, the Navy said. Small fixed-wing planes or helicopters are typically used to transport personnel, visitors, and supplies to the camp.

This is the first time since 2011 that the U.S. Navy has built a temporary base camp on the ice far north of Prudhoe Bay to support submarine exercises. It carried out a similar exercise in 2012 without a camp.

The camp is essentially a small village with housing, a mess tent and buildings where scientific and military exercises are coordinated and conducted.   Continued...