Scientists established more than 30 years ago that the climate-related variability of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere over Earth’s ice-age cycles was regulated by the ocean. Hypotheses to explain how the ocean that regulates atmospheric carbon dioxide have long been debated, but they have proven to be difficult to test. This project was designed test one leading hypothesis, specifically that the ocean experienced greater density stratification during the ice ages. That is, with greater stratification during the ice ages and the slower replacement of deep water by cold dense water formed near the poles, the deep ocean would have held more carbon dioxide, which is produced by biological respiration of the organic carbon that constantly rains to the abyss in the form of dead organisms and organic debris that sink from the sunlit surface ocean. To test this hypothesis, the degree of ocean stratification during the last ice age and the rate of deep-water replacement was to be constrained by comparing the radiocarbon ages of organisms that grew in the surface ocean and at the sea floor within a critical region around Antarctica, where most of the replacement of deep waters occurs. Completing this work was expected to contribute toward improved models of future climate change. Climate scientists rely on models to estimate the amount of fossil fuel carbon dioxide that will be absorbed by the ocean in the future. Currently the ocean absorbs about 25% of the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels. Most of this carbon is absorbed in the Southern Ocean (the region around Antarctica). How this will change in the future is poorly known. Models have difficulty representing physical conditions in the Southern Ocean accurately, thereby adding substantial uncertainty to projections of future ocean uptake of carbon dioxide. Results of the proposed study will provide a benchmark to test the ability of models to simulate ocean processes under climate conditions distinctly different from those that occur today, ultimately leading to improvement of the models and to more reliable projections of future absorption of carbon dioxide by the ocean.
The project added a research component to an existing scientific expedition to the Southern Ocean, in the region between the Ross Sea and New Zealand, that collected sediment cores at locations down the northern flank of the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge at approximately 170°W. The goal was to collect sediments at each location deposited since early in the peak of the last ice age. This region is unusual in the Southern Ocean in that sediments deposited during the last ice age contain foraminifera, tiny organisms with calcium carbonate shells, in much greater abundance than in other regions of the Southern Ocean. Foraminifera are widely used as an archive of several geochemical tracers of past ocean conditions. We proposed to compare the radiocarbon age of foraminifera that inhabited the surface ocean with the age of contemporary specimens that grew on the seabed. The difference in age between surface and deep-swelling organisms would have been used to discriminate between two proposed mechanisms of deep water renewal during the ice age: formation in coastal polynyas around the edge of Antarctica, much as occurs today, versus formation by open-ocean convection in deep-water regions far from the continent. If the latter mechanism prevails, then it was expected that surface and deep-dwelling foraminifera would exhibit similar radiocarbon ages. In the case of dominance of deep-water formation in coastal polynyas, one expects to find very different radiocarbon ages in the two populations of foraminifera. In the extreme case of greater ocean stratification during the last ice age, one even expects the surface dwellers to appear to be older than contemporary bottom dwellers because the targeted core sites lie directly under the region where the oldest deep waters outcrop at the surface following their long circuitous transit through the deep ocean. The primary objective of the proposed work was to reconstruct the water mass age structure of the Southern Ocean during the last ice age, which, in turn, is a primary factor that controls the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the deep sea. In addition, the presence of foraminifera in the cores to be recovered provides a valuable resource for many other paleoceanographic applications, such as: 1) the application of nitrogen isotopes to constrain the level of nutrient utilization in the Southern Ocean and, thus, the efficiency of the ocean’s biological pump, 2) the application of neodymium isotopes to constrain the transport history of deep water masses, 3) the application of boron isotopes and boron/calcium ratios to constrain the pH and inorganic carbon system parameters of ice-age seawater, and 4) the exploitation of metal/calcium ratios in foraminifera to reconstruct the temperature (Mg/Ca) and nutrient content (Cd/Ca) of deep waters during the last ice age at a location near their source near Antarctica.
Unfortunately, the cores were shipped to the core repository in a horizontal orientation and there was sufficient distortion of the sediment that the radiocarbon ages of benthic foraminifera were uninterpretable. Therefore, we report only the radiocarbon dates for planktonic foraminifera as well as the total counts of elemental relative abundance from X-ray Fluorescence analysis of the cores. In addition, we used the expedition as an opportunity to collect water samples from which dissolved concentrations of long-lived isotope of thorium and protactinium were determined. Results from those analyses showed that lateral transport by isopycnal mixing dominates the supply of Pa to the Southern Ocean. We have also developed a new algorithm to correct for supply of Th by isopycnal mixing and thereby derive estimates of dust flux to the Southern Ocean.
The waters of the Ross Sea continental shelf are among the most productive in the Southern Ocean, and may comprise a significant regional oceanic sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide. In this region, primary production can be limited by the supply of dissolved iron to surface waters during the growing season. Water-column observations, sampling and measurements are to be carried out in the late autumn-early winter time frame on the Ross Sea continental shelf and coastal polynyas (Terra Nova Bay and Ross Ice Shelf polynyas), in order to better understand what drives the biogeochemical redistribution of micronutrient iron species during the onset of convective mixing and sea-ice formation at this time of year, thereby setting conditions for primary production during the following spring. The spectacular field setting and remote, hostile conditions that accompany the proposed field study present exciting possibilities for STEM education and training. At the K-12 level, the project seeks to support the development of educational outreach materials targeting elementary and middle school students, pre-service science teachers, and in-service science teachers.
During winter, sea-ice coverage along the Antarctic coast is punctuated by numerous polynyas--isolated openings of tens to hundreds of kilometer wide. These coastal polynyas are hotspots of sea ice production and the primary source regions of the bottom water in the global ocean. They also host high levels of biological activities and are the feeding grounds of Emperor penguins and marine mammals. The polynyas are a key component of the Antarctic coastal system and crucial for the survival of penguins and many other species. These features also differ dramatically from each other in timing of formation, duration, phytoplankton growth season, and overall biological productivity. Yet, the underlying reasons for differences among them are largely unknown. This project studies the fundamental biophysical processes at a variety of polynyas, examines the connection between the physical environment and the phytoplankton and penguin ecology, and investigates the mechanisms behind polynya variability. The results of this interdisciplinary study will provide a context for interpretation of field measurements in Antarctic coastal polynyas, set a baseline for future polynya studies, and examine how polynya ecosystems may respond to local and large-scale environmental changes. The project will include educational and outreach activities that convey scientific messages to a broad audience. It aims to increase public awareness of the interconnection between large-scale environmental change and Antarctic coastal systems.<br/><br/>The main objectives of this study are to form a comprehensive understanding of the temporal and spatial variability of Antarctic coastal polynyas and the physical controls of polynya ecosystems. The project takes an interdisciplinary approach and seeks to establish a modeling system centered on the Regional Ocean Modeling System. This system links the ice and ocean conditions to the plankton ecology and penguin population. Applications of the modeling system in representative polynyas, in conjunction with analysis of existing observations, will determine the biophysical influences of individual forcing factors. In particular, this study will test a set of hypothesized effects of winds, offshore water intrusion, ice-shelf melting, sea-ice formation, glacier tongues, and ocean stratification on the timing of polynya phytoplankton bloom and the overall polynya biological productivity. The project will also examine how changing polynya state affects penguin breeding success, adult survival, and population growth. The team will conduct idealized sensitivity analysis to explore implications of forcing variability, including local and large-scale environmental change, on Antarctic coastal ecosystems.
The one place on Earth consistently showing increases in sea ice area, duration, and concentration is the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Satellite imagery shows about half of the Ross Sea increases are associated with changes in the austral fall, when the new sea ice is forming. The most pronounced changes are also located near polynyas, which are areas of open ocean surrounded by sea ice. To understand the processes driving the sea ice increase, and to determine if the increase in sea ice area is also accompanied by a change in ice thickness, this project will conduct an oceanographic cruise to the polynyas of the Ross Sea in April and May, 2017, which is the austral fall. The team will deploy state of the art research tools including unmanned airborne systems (UASs, commonly called drones), autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs). Using these tools and others, the team will study atmospheric, oceanic, and sea ice properties and processes concurrently. A change in sea ice production will necessarily change the ocean water below, which may have significant consequences for global ocean circulation patterns, a topic of international importance. All the involved institutions will be training students, and all share the goal of expanding climate literacy in the US, emphasizing the role high latitudes play in the Earth's dynamic climate.<br/><br/>The main goal of the project is to improve estimates of sea ice production and water mass transformation in the Ross Sea. The team will fully capture the spatial and temporal changes in air-ice-ocean interactions when they are initiated in the austral fall, and then track the changes into the winter and spring using ice buoys, and airborne mapping with the newly commissioned IcePod instrument system, which is deployed on the US Antarctic Program's LC-130 fleet. The oceanographic cruise will include stations in and outside of both the Terra Nova Bay and Ross Ice Shelf polynyas. Measurements to be made include air-sea boundary layer fluxes of heat, freshwater, and trace gases, radiation, and meteorology in the air; ice formation processes, ice thickness, snow depth, mass balance, and ice drift within the sea ice zone; and temperature, salinity, and momentum in the ocean below. Following collection of the field data, the team will improve both model parameterizations of air-sea-ice interactions and remote sensing algorithms. Model parameterizations are needed to determine if sea-ice production has increased in crucial areas, and if so, why (e.g., stronger winds or fresher oceans). The remote sensing validation will facilitate change detection over wider areas and verify model predictions over time. Accordingly this project will contribute to the international Southern Ocean Observing System (SOOS) goal of measuring essential climate variables continuously to monitor the state of the ocean and ice cover into the future.
The aim of study is to understand how climate-related changes in snow and ice affect predator populations in the Antarctic, using the Adélie penguin as a focal species due to its long history as a Southern Ocean 'sentinel' species and the number of long-term research programs monitoring its abundance, distribution, and breeding biology. Understanding the environmental factors that control predator population dynamics is critically important for projecting the state of populations under future climate change scenarios, and for designing better conservation strategies for the Antarctic ecosystem. For the first time, datasets from a network of observational sites for the Adélie penguin across the entire Antarctic will be combined and analyzed, with a focus on linkages among the ice environment, primary production, and the population responses of Adélie penguins. The project will also further the NSF goals of making scientific discoveries available to the general public and of training new generations of scientists. The results of this project can be used to illustrate intuitively to the general public the complex interactions between ice, ocean, pelagic food web and top predators. This project also offers an excellent platform to demonstrate the process of climate-change science - how scientists simulate climate change scenarios and interpret model results. This project supports the training of undergraduate and graduate students in the fields of polar oceanography, plankton and seabird ecology, coupled physical-biological modeling and mathematical ecology. The results will be broadly disseminated to the general oceanographic research community through scientific workshops, conferences and peer-reviewed journal articles, and to undergraduate and graduate education communities, K-12 schools and organizations, and the interested public through web-based servers using existing infrastructure at the investigators' institutions. The key question to be addressed in this project is how climate impacts the timing of periodic biological events (phenology) and how interannual variation in this periodic forcing influences the abundance of penguins in the Antarctic. The focus will be on the timing of ice algae and phytoplankton blooms because the high seasonality of sea ice and associated pulsed primary productivity are major drivers of the Antarctic food web. This study will also examine the responses of Adélie penguins to changes in sea ice dynamics and ice algae-phytoplankton phenology. Adélie penguins, like many other Antarctic seabirds, are long-lived, upper trophic-level predators that integrate the effects of sea ice on the food web at regional scales, and thus serve as a reliable biological indicator of environmental changes. The proposed approach is designed to accommodate the limits of measuring and modeling the intermediate trophic levels between phytoplankton and penguins (e.g., zooplankton and fish) at the pan-Antarctic scale, which are important but latent variables in the Southern Ocean food web. Through the use of remotely sensed and in situ data, along with state of the art statistical approaches (e.g. wavelet analysis) and numerical modeling, this highly interdisciplinary study will advance our understanding of polar ecosystems and improve the projection of future climate change scenarios.
Antarctic coastal polynas are, at the same time, sea-ice free sites and 'sea-ice factories'. They are open water surface locations where water mass transformation and densification occurs, and where atmospheric exchanges with the deep ocean circulation are established. Various models of the formation and persistence of these productive and diverse ocean ecosystems are hampered by the relative lack of in situ meteorological and physical oceanographic observations, especially during the inhospitable conditions of their formation and activity during the polar night. <br/><br/><br/>Characterization of the lower atmosphere properties, air-sea surface heat fluxes and corresponding ocean hydrographic profiles of Antarctic polynyas, especially during strong wind events, is sought for a more detailed understanding of the role of polynyas in the production of latent-heat type sea ice and the formation, through sea ice brine rejection, of dense ocean bottom waters<br/><br/>A key technological innovation in this work continues to be the use of instrumented unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), to enable the persistent and safe observation of the interaction of light and strong katabatic wind fields, and mesocale cyclones in the Terra Nova Bay (Victoria Land, Antarctica) polynya waters during late winter and early summer time frames.
ASPIRE is an NSF-funded project that will examine the ecology of the Amundsen Sea during the Austral summer of 2010. ASPIRE includes an international team of trace metal and carbon chemists, phytoplankton physiologists, microbial and zooplankton ecologists, and physical oceanographers, that will investigate why and how the Amundsen Sea Polynya is so much more productive than other polynyas and whether interannual variability can provide insight to climate-sensitive mechanisms driving carbon fluxes. This project will compliment the existing ASPIRE effort by using 1) experimental manipulations to understand photoacclimation of the dominant phytoplankton taxa under conditions of varying light and trace metal abundance, 2) nutrient addition bioassays to determine the importance of trace metal versus nitrogen limitation of phytoplankton growth, and 3) a numerical ecosystem model to understand the importance of differences in mixing regime, flow field, and Fe sources in controlling phytoplankton bloom dynamics and community composition in this unusually productive polynya system. The research strategy will integrate satellite remote sensing, field-based experimental manipulations, and numerical modeling. Outreach and education include participation in Stanford's Summer Program for Professional Development for Science Teachers, Stanford's School of Earth Sciences high school internship program, and development of curriculum for local science training centers, including the Chabot Space and Science Center. Undergraduate participation and training will include support for both graduate students and undergraduate assistants.
Antarctic polynyas are the ice free zones often persisting in continental sea ice. Characterization of the lower atmosphere properties, air-sea surface heat fluxes and corresponding ocean depth profiles of Antarctic polynyas, especially during strong wind events, is needed for a more detailed understanding of the role of polynya in the production of latent-heat type sea ice and the formation, through brine rejection, of dense ocean bottom waters. <br/><br/>Broader impacts: A key technological innovation, the use of instrumented uninhabited aircraft systems (UAS), will be employed to enable the persistent and safe observation of the interaction of light and strong katabatic wind fields with the Terra Nova Bay (Victoria Land, Antarctica) polynya waters during late winter and early summer time frames. The use of UAS observational platforms on the continent to date has to date been modest, but demonstration of their versatility and effectiveness in surveying and observing mode is a welcome development. The projects use of UAS platforms by University of Colorado and LDEO (Columbia) researchers is both high risk, and potentially transformative for the systematic data measurement tasks that many Antarctic science applications increasingly require.
This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).<br/><br/>The Amundsen Sea Polynya is areally the most productive Antarctic polynya, exhibits higher chlorophyll levels during peak bloom and greater interannual variability than the better-studied Ross Sea Polynya ecosystem. Polynyas may be the key to understanding the future of polar regions as their extent is expected to increase with anthropogenic warming. The project will examine 1) sources of iron to the Amundsen Sea Polynya as a function of climate forcing, 2) phytoplankton community structure in relation to iron supply and mixed-layer depths, 3) the efficiency of the biological pump of carbon to depth and 4) the net flux of carbon as a function of climate and micronutrient forcing. The research also will compare results for the Amundsen Sea to existing data synthesis and modeling efforts for the Palmer LTER and Ross Sea. The project will 1) build close scientific collaborations between US and Swedish researchers; 2) investigate climate change implications with broad societal relevance; 3) train new researchers; 4) encourage participation in research science by underrepresented groups, and 5) involve broad dissemination of results via scientific literature and public outreach, including close interactions with NSF-supported PolarTrec and COSEE K-12 teachers.
This study will investigate how the formation of dense water masses on the antarctic continental shelves is affected by the periodic flushing by relatively warm circumpolar deep water, and whether the intrusion of warm water cna enhance the rate of formation of dense antarctic water. The study involves the observation of water mass modification processes on the continental shelf off the Adelie Coast in East Antarctica, near a quasi-permanent area of open water in the vicinity of the Mertz and Ninnis Glacier tongues - the so-called Mertz polynya.<br/><br/>Antarctic coastal polynyas, formed by strong offshore winds, are often referred to as major sea ice and salt "factories" because the newly formed ice is blown seaward, allowing more ice to be formed along the coast, and because the freezing process increases the salinity of the continental shelf water. The thin ice, or even open water, implies significant heat losses from the ocean to the atmosphere, which also increases the density of the shelf water. The shelf water sinks, fills any depressions in the bottom, and is gravitationally driven down the continental slope. An additional process is identified for this study and is expected to be at work in this area: the intrusion of relatively warm water onto the continental shelf, overriding the shelf water and essentially shutting down the densification processes.<br/><br/> The study will make use of the RVIB Nathaniel B. Palmer to obtain a closely spaced array of hydrographic stations over the continental shelf and slope along the George V Coast in the austral summer. The dat obtained here will complement a similar winter study by the Australian National Antarctic Program.<br/>***
This collaborative study between Columbia University and the Southampton Oceanography Centre will investigate the dynamics of warm water intrusions under antarctic floating ice shelves. The study will focus on the Amundsen Sea and Pine Island Glacier, and will document how this water gains access to the continental shelf, transports heat into the ice shelf cavities via deep, glacially-scoured troughs, and rises beneath the ice to drive basal melting. The resulting seawater-meltwater mixtures upwell near the ice fronts, contributing to the formation of atypical coastal polynyas with strong geochemical signatures. Multidecadal freshening downstream is consistent with thinning ice shelves, which may be triggering changes inland, increasing the flow of grounded ice into the sea. This work will be carried out in combination with parallel modeling, remote sensing and data based projects, in an effort to narrow uncertainties about the response of West Antarctic Ice Sheet to climate change. Using state-of-the-art facilities and instruments, this work will enhance knowledge of water mass production and modification, and the understanding of interactions between the ocean circulation, sea floor and ice shelves. The data and findings will be reported to publicly accessible archives and submitted for publication in the scientific literature. The information obtained should prove invaluable for the development and validation of general circulation models, needed to predict the future role of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in sea level change.