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Renda Fuel Tanker Less Than 100 Miles From Nome, Alaska

Nome Tanker Alaska Ice

First Posted: 01/11/12 04:03 AM ET Updated: 01/12/12 11:06 AM ET

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — As a Russian fuel tanker slowly moves through the frozen Bering Sea toward an iced-in city in western Alaska, it has been getting help from an unusual source at its destination: a drone that flies overhead and sends images of the sea ice to researchers onshore.

The camera-equipped drone looks like a smoke detector with wings and legs. It glides on 20-minute missions ranging from 10 feet to 320 feet above the ice, and its images can be instantly viewed on a tablet-type computer screen.

The tanker is bound for Nome, a town of 3,500 residents that missed its final pre-winter delivery of fuel by barge when a big storm swept the region last fall. Without the delivery of 1.3 million gallons, the city could run short of fuel before a barge delivery becomes possible in late spring.

Researchers were using the 2.5-pound drone to provide a large picture of the ice in hopes of guiding the tanker as close to shore as possible, said Greg Walker, unmanned aircraft program manager for the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Geophysical Institute.

The Healy, the Coast Guard's only functioning icebreaker, has been accompanying the 370-foot tanker through the Bering Sea.

Progress was stalled by thick ice and strong ocean currents Tuesday. The vessels made nine miles but drifted with the ice while at rest for a total gain of just six miles, Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley said.

Ice conditions remained tough Wednesday. The Coast Guard said the two vessels were in densely concentrated ice about 100 miles from Nome by mid-afternoon.

"The way it's been described to me, ice breaking is a mission in patience. You take the miles as they come," Mosley said.

Meanwhile, a researcher assisting in the mission has discovered a 25-foot ice pressure ridge at the entrance to the Nome's harbor.

The pressure ridges are created when the pack ice from offshore pushes against the stationary shore ice, creating thick ridges somewhat like icebergs, scientists said.

The top of the ridge sits about 5 feet above the frozen surface but the rest extends well down into the ocean, the Geophysical Institute's Andy Mahoney said. The ridge is too big to get past, but it shouldn't prevent the tanker from offloading its fuel through its mile long hose.

Pictures from the drone will be used to figure out the best way to lay the hose.

As the tanker approaches Nome, the pressure ridges actually might come in handy as they are natural fault lines, Walker said. If the tanker can break the ice away from the ridges, it could open up a pathway.

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Online:

Healy webcam: http://bit.ly/wEsemi

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  • <em>From AP:</em> This image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows an image taken from the hourly bridge camera of the Coast Guard Ice Breaker Healy as it approaches the Russian-flagged tanker vessel Renda Tuesday evening Jan. 10, 2012. Shifting ice, described as dynamic ice, has slowed the progress of the paired vessels. The ice tends to close in, cutting off the path between the two ships. When that happens, the icebreaker doubles back and makes a relief cut to take pressure off the tanker and open a pathway. Coast Guard spokesman David Mosley said the tanker Renda and the icebreaker Healy were less than 100 miles from Nome at around noon Tuesday, having made it through 53 miles of ice-covered waters Monday. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The Coast Guard Cutter Healy, right, approaches the Russian-flagged tanker Renda while breaking ice around the vessel 97 miles south of Nome, Alaska, Jan. 10, 2012. The two vessels departed Dutch Harbor for Nome on Jan. 3, 2012, to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

  • <em>From AP:</em> In this image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard the Russian tanker Renda transits through broken Bering Sea ice Jan. 9, 2012. The Coast Guard Cutter Healy is breaking ice and escorting the Renda to the remote village of Nome to deliver 1.3 million gallons of petroleum products to Nome residents. The delivery, which if successful would mark the first time petroleum products have been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter. (AP Photo/Mathew Rupp - US Coast Guard)

  • <em>From AP:</em> In a photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, left, breaks through the Bering Sea ice 165 miles south of Nome, Alaska, on a return path to break ice up around the tanker Renda Jan. 8, 2012. The tanker Renda is carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of critically needed fuel to be delivered to Nome. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/ Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The 420-foot Coast Guard Cutter Healy, top, creates a return path in the Bering Sea ice to assist the Russian-flagged tanker Renda, bottom, 165 miles south of Nome, Alaska, Jan. 8, 2012. The cutter Healy and tanker Renda have been making their way to Nome through the Bering Sea ice for two days to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel Nome, Alaska. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally.)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The 420-foot Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice in the Bering Sea to assist the tanker Renda make way toward approximately 165 miles from Nome, Alaska, Sunday Jan. 8, 2012. The Coast Guard icebreaker is cutting a path through icy seas for a Russian tanker carrying much-needed fuel for the iced-in Alaska city of Nome. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard/Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally)

  • <em>From AP:</em> In this Jan. 7, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew steers their ship along side the tanker Renda as they conduct a return cut through the ice in the bearing Sea near Nome, Alaska. Shifting ice in the Bering Sea that at times is pinching the sides of the Russian tanker is raising the specter that a mission to deliver fuel to an iced-in Alaska community might not be possible. (AP Photo/ U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley)

  • <em>From AP:</em> In this Jan. 7, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew steers their ship along side the tanker Renda as they conduct a return cut through the ice in the bearing Sea near Nome, Alaska. Shifting ice in the Bering Sea that at times is pinching the sides of the Russian tanker is raising the specter that a mission to deliver fuel to an iced-in Alaska community might not be possible. (AP Photo/ U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley)

  • <em>From AP:</em> In this Jan. 6, 2012 photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Russian tanker vessel Renda, rear, follows a path made in the ice by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy. The Renda is carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to the city of Nome after a winter storm restricted a scheduled delivery. If the mission is successful, it will be the first time petroleum products have been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Seaman Benjamin Nocerini)

  • <em>From AP:</em> This image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard shows the view from the Russian tanker as she follows the Coast Guard cutter Healy taken at 5:01 p.m. EST Friday Jan. 6, 2011. The tanker carrying much-needed fuel for the iced-in Alaska city of Nome was less than 190 miles away on Saturday and was making slow but steady progress, a company official said. The ship is scheduled to arrive later Monday or perhaps even Tuesday. If the mission is successful, it will be the first time petroleum products have been delivered by sea to a Western Alaska community in winter. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The Coast Guard Cutter Healy breaks ice around the Russian-flagged tanker Renda 250 miles south of Nome Jan. 6, 2012. The Healy is the Coast Guard's only currently operating polar icebreaker. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. The 370-foot tanker Renda will have to go through more than 300 miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline that did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm. If the delivery of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew breaks ice in the Bering Sea as the Russian-flagged tanker Renda, approximately 19 miles northwest of Nunivak Island, makes their way to Nome, Alaska, to deliver more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel to the city Jan. 6, 2012. The 420-foot Seattle-based Healy and tanker Renda are approximately 19 miles northwest of Nunivak Island. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. The 370-foot tanker Renda will have to go through more than 300 miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline that did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm. If the delivery of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The Russian-flagged tanker Renda, carrying more than 1.3 million gallons of fuel, sits in the ice while the Coast Guard Cutter Healy crew breaks the ice around the tanker approximately 19 miles northwest of Nunivak Island Jan. 6, 2012. The cutter Healy crew is escorting the Renda crew to Nome, Alaska, where the tanker crew will offload the needed fuel to the city. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. The 370-foot tanker Renda will have to go through more than 300 miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline that did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm. If the delivery of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The Coast Guard Cutter Healy escorts the Russian-flagged tanker Renda 250 miles south of Nome Friday Jan. 6, 2012. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. The 370-foot tanker Renda will have to go through more than 300 miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline that did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm. If the delivery of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The Russian-flagged tanker Renda sits stopped in the ice 250 miles south of Nome as the Coast Guard Cutter Healy makes several passes around it to break the ice Friday Jan. 6, 2012. The Healy crew is escorting the Renda to Nome to deliver more than one million gallons of fuel supplies to the city. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. The 370-foot tanker Renda will have to go through more than 300 miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline that did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm. If the delivery of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

  • <em>From AP:</em> The Coast Guard Cutter Healy escorts the Russian-flagged tanker Renda 250 miles south of Nome Friday Jan. 6, 2012. The vessels are transiting through ice up to five-feet thick in this area. The 370-foot tanker Renda will have to go through more than 300 miles of sea ice to get to Nome, a city of about 3,500 people on the western Alaska coastline that did not get its last pre-winter fuel delivery because of a massive storm. If the delivery of diesel fuel and unleaded gasoline is not made, the city likely will run short of fuel supplies before another barge delivery can be made in spring. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis)

  • <em>From AP:</em> A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules aircrew conducts an overflight of the Coast Guard Cutter Healy, right, as it escorts the tanker Renda from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Nome Jan. 5, 2012. The Healy crew is scheduled to break a path in the ice near Nome so the Renda crew can deliver critical fuel supplies to the city. (AP Photo/US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Lally)

  • <em>From AP:</em> In this file photo from Monday, Jan. 2, 2012, the Renda, a Russian tanker, is shown in Unalaska, Alaska. The Renda left Dutch Harbor on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 and was headed to the iced-in community when a maintenance alarm sounded. The tanker had departed carrying more than 1 million gallons of diesel fuel and 400,000 gallons of gasoline. Mark Smith with Vitus Marine LLC says the alarm indicated that the vessel needed a valve replacement. Once the tanker is fixed, it should take four or five days for it to travel the 700 miles to Nome. It will have to get through more than 300 miles of sea ice. The Coast Guard cutter Healy is on hand to break ice. (AP Photo/Jim Paulin)

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