With Coast Guard data showing that Alaska has warmed at twice the rate of the lower 48 United States, the Arctic waters are becoming increasingly navigable by all sorts of sea vessels.
This increase in navigability has not been matched by an increased Coast Guard presence in the area. Currently, there are only 3 Coast Guard ships capable of breaking through polar ice, and one is currently non-operational. The US Arctic domain encompasses almost 41,000 square miles, which creates other problems for the US Coast Guard. The northernmost US city, Barrows, Alaska, is some 1,100 nautical miles from the closest US deep-water port and 945 miles nautical miles from the nearest Coast Guard Air Station.
These few ships will have great responsibility in the coming years. There is the matter of natural resources that are present in the Arctic area - the Coast Guard estimates that the area has around 90 billion barrels of oil and about 30% of the world's natural gas reserves. The weather in the Arctic area can also make water passage in the area difficult to impossible.
There is a new Arctic Coast Guard Forum set to have its first meeting in September. Modeled after the North Pacific Coast Guard Forums, this group has been created to deal with the challenges of secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the region.