Collaborative Research: Polynyas in Coastal Antarctica (PICA): Linking Physical Dynamics to Biological Variability
Polynyas in Coastal Antarctica
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.
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.
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