As Arctic Melts, a Race to Test Oil Spill Cleanup Technology

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy—one of two working icebreakers in the nation's fleet—concluded a sobering mission Tuesday in the ice-strewn waters north of Barrow, Alaska. The crew's task was to practice deploying equipment they hoped they would never use: new, high-tech gear for responding to a massive oil spill in the Arctic Ocean.

Some of the new technology, which included military-style drone aircraft and an unmanned underwater vehicle dubbed the Jaguar by its developers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, was designed to hunt and track oil trapped in or under ice. Other devices, such as oil skimmers and ROVs (remotely operated vehicles), were more robust Arctic versions of tools that took center stage during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest maritime oil spill in U.S. history.