SEATTLE -- A Seattle-based Coast Guard crew is heading to the Arctic. For several months, they will focus on various aspects of marine life, the environment and new claims of United States territory under Arctic waters and ice.

The crew will work aboard the USCGC Healy. At 420 feet in length and weighing 16,000 tons, it is the largest cutter in the United States Coast Guard (USCG) fleet.

“We’re the only ship in the U.S. that can do the work we’re doing in the high Arctic,” said USCG Commander Karl Lander.

On board the United States' premiere high-latitude research vessel are 85 USCG crew members and 50 scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Office of Naval Research. During the first mission, the team will be sampling the water, ice, and life of the Chukchi Sea. The U.S. wants to know how global warming and the recent controversial push to find oil will impact the Arctic.

“If oil exploration does go forward in the future, and God forbid something happens, we’ll know what it looked like beforehand,” said USCG Commander Bill Woityra.

By mapping what's under the water, the journey may also allow the U.S. to submit new territory claims to the United Nations on a certain area of the continental shelf. Other countries like Russia are gearing up to make similar claims, according to the USCG.

“As an Arctic nation, it is critical that we have that access and presence [in the Arctic] year-round,” said Healy’s Captain Jason Hamilton.

Hamilton says he is excited about working with some of the best minds in research and the impact their work could have.

“That’s one of the highlights because you get to work with other smart people that are very capable and have specific skill sets that they can bring to bear for the United States up in the Arctic,” said Hamilton.

Once all three missions are complete, the Healy will be back along the Seattle waterfront. It will once again be docked at the USCG Base Seattle in October.