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This Week in History
March 12-18, 2017

First-Ever Surfacing of a U.S. Nuclear Submarine
at the North Pole (1959)

By Rick Sanders

By US Navy photo courtesy of US Navy Arctic Submarine Laboratory. ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
USS Skate – Skate (SSN-578) in Arctic waters.

March 17, 1959—the USS Skate became the first submarine to surface at the North Pole. They planted an American Flag in a cairn they built out of ice blocks and put a waterproof container in the cairn with a note commemorating the event.

A crew member of the Skate explains:

… "the Skate found open water both in the summer and following winter. We surfaced near the North Pole in the winter through thin ice less than 2 feet thick. The ice moves from Alaska to Iceland and the wind and tides causes open water as the ice breaks up.  The Ice at the polar ice cap is an average of 6-8 feet thick, but with the wind and tides the ice will crack and open into large polynyas (areas of open water), these areas will refreeze over with thin ice. We had sonar equipment that would find these open or thin areas to come up through, thus limiting any damage to the submarine. The ice would also close in and cover these areas crushing together making large ice ridges both above and below the water. We came up through a very large opening in 1958 that was 1/2 mile long and 200 yards wide. The wind came up and closed the opening within 2 hours. On both trips we were able to find open water. We were not able to surface through ice thicker than 3 feet."

Somehow, this contradicts the New York Times story, 41 years later. The alert reader will draw his or her own conclusions about global warming.

AUG. 19, 2000: Ages-Old Icecap at North Pole Is Now Liquid, Scientists Find


The North Pole is melting.

The thick ice that has for ages covered the Arctic Ocean at the pole has turned to water, recent visitors there reported yesterday. At least for the time being, an ice-free patch of ocean about a mile wide has opened at the very top of the world, something that has presumably never before been seen by humans and is more evidence that global warming may be real and already affecting climate.

…"It was totally unexpected,'' said Dr. James J. McCarthy, an oceanographer, director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and the co-leader of a group working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is sponsored by the United Nations.

… Dr. McCarthy was a lecturer on a tourist cruise in the Arctic aboard a Russian icebreaker earlier this month. On a similar cruise six years ago, he recalled, the icebreaker plowed through an icecap six to nine feet thick at the North Pole.

…''Some folks who pooh-pooh global warming might wake up if shown that even the pole is beginning to melt at least sometimes, as in the Eocene,'' Dr. McKenna [a paleontologist] said.

… Recalling the reaction of passengers when they saw an iceless North Pole, Dr. McCarthy said: ''There was a sense of alarm. Global warming was real, and we were seeing its effects for the first time that far north.''