SEATTLE — The icebreaker Polar Star was 1,000 miles out of its home port of Seattle last December, three days into its yearly voyage to resupply scientific bases in Antarctica, when a powerful swell hit its bow and flooded the deck.

The ship shuddered.

The roar of the ventilators in the galley quit as Joseph Sellar, a stocky 25-year-old Coast Guard culinary specialist from New Hampshire, watched seawater explode from the ceiling.

He lunged toward a switch to close the overhead vents. With a loud pop, an outlet ejected a purple spark.

"Are we sinking?" asked a petty officer on temp duty from Virginia.

Sellar knew better.

"Calm down," he said, whipping out his cellphone to record the gusher.

The United States spends $2 billion a day on the most advanced military ever assembled, with more aircraft carriers, fighter planes and nuclear submarines than any other nation. The Pentagon intends to develop a space fleet of orbiting lasers, missile sensors and satellites.

Then there is the Polar Star.

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The U.S. Coast Guard on April 23, 2019 tapped VT Halter Marine, Inc. to build, for $750 million, the service's first new heavy icebreaker in four decades.

With the contract award, the Coast Guard finally is getting serious about strengthening its presence at Earth's rapidly-melting poles. Human industry adds carbon to the atmosphere that traps heat and causes rapid change in the global climate.

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Coast Guard cutter Polar Star crew members on the ice about 13 miles from McMurdo Station in Antarctica, January 26, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard/Fireman John Pelzel0

During its return from an annual supply run to the McMurdo research station in Antarctica, the U.S. Coast Guard's only heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, had a fire break out inside its incinerator room as it sailed about 650 miles north of McMurdo Sound.

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