The icebreakers of old

Sarah Eberspacher
The WeekDecember 28, 2013

Most of us woke up to presents (and/or a welcome day off from work) on Christmas morning. The MV Akademik Shokalskiy ship, on the other hand, found itself trapped in ice up to 10 feet thick on all sides.

The research vessel sent out a distress signal, hoping help would arrive as quickly as possible, considering the 74 crew members were currently sitting in the Antarctic sea.

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Luckily, there's a ship for that.

Icebreakers have helped carve paths through frosty seas since the 1800s; of course, the designs of these behemoths have much improved upon the glorified whalers that once sliced through the ice. Three such ships were expected to reach the stranded research vessel by Friday night; the crew is on an expedition to measure the effects of climate change.

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Below, a look back at the boats that helped humans explore new — very cold — lands:

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Mid-1800s: USRC Bear and SS Corwin, photographed in Alaska. | (U.S. Coast Guard/Lomex Bros. photograph, No. 999)

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1928: The cutter Bear, used by U.S. Admiral Richard Byrd on an expedition to the South Polar regions. | (General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

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1944: USCGC Northland. | (U.S. Coast Guard)

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1956: The USCG icebreaker Eastwind carries out Antarctic Operation Deep Freeze I — with some curious penguins observing the expedition. | (U.S. Coast Guard/PH1 Walter Zaborney)

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1957: A Navy helicopter hovers near USCG icebreaker Northwind as it clears a path at Moubray Bay. | (Keystone/Getty Images)

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1965: Three U.S. Navy icebreakers push an iceberg to clear a channel leading to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (Arthur W. Thomas/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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