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Obama to Call for More U.S. Coast Guard Icebreakers in Changing Arctic

He will also call for more scientific research "to increase our understanding of this vital region."

President Barack Obama will propose on Tuesday that the United States buy or build more icebreakers for the Coast Guard in the Arctic Ocean, citing a growing gap with Russia in a quickly changing corner of the world.

As sea ice melts because of climate change, marine traffic for mining, shipping and tourism is expected to increase in the Arctic.

But the United States has only two fully functioning icebreakers in its fleet — and only one capable of heavy-duty work, the White House said. By comparison, Russia has 40 in its fleet and 11 more planned or being built.

Polar Star, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, completes ice drills in the Arctic in 2013.U.S. Coast Guard via Reuters file

The president will propose accelerating the acquisition of a replacement heavy icebreaker to 2020 from 2022, and he will propose a plan to build more. He will call on Congress to provide the money.

Obama will also call for stepping up the American scientific research in the Arctic “to increase our understanding of this vital region.”

“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the White House said in a statement.

Tuesday is the second day of a three-day presidential visit to Alaska. Obama plans to hike to Exit Glacier and tour Kenai Fjords National Park by boat.

On Monday, using unusually blunt language, the president challenged world leaders to act boldly to fight climate change or “condemn our children to a world they will no longer have the capacity to repair.”

The administration also announced the renaming of 20,000-foot Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America, to Denali, restoring the name Alaska Natives have used for generations.