Friend or Foe: Variability in How Sea Ice Can Both Hinder and Enhance Phytoplankton Blooms Across the Southern Ocean

Tyler Rohr, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole, MA, United States; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Cambridge, MA, United States
Globally, a suite of physical and biogeochemical controls govern the structure, size, and timing of seasonal phytoplankton blooms. In the Southern Ocean, the introduction of seasonal sea ice provides an additional constraining factor. From a bottom-up perspective, a reduction in sea ice can both enhance bloom development by permitting greater levels of surface PAR uninhibited by ice and suppress a bloom when reduced fresh melt-water inputs and increased vulnerability to wind stress combine to create deeper mixed layers and decrease depth integrated light availability. Regions along the Western Antarctic Peninsula have already seen a contradictory response to reduced ice cover, with enhanced summertime chlorophyll concentrations in the South, and large declines to the North. This dichotomy is thought to arise from differences in the interannual mean sea ice state, with extensively ice covered regions benefiting from reduced coverage and more sparsely covered regions hindered by further reductions. The questions arises: 1) At what threshold does a reduction in sea ice transition from amplifying blooms to suppressing them? 2) How do additional environmental considerations such as nutrient availability and trophic interactions complicate this transition? Here, we combine remote sensing observations and in-situ data (from PAL LTER) with a hierarchy of 1-D water column and global general circulation (CESM) models to access the variability in how regional differences in mean ice state combine with other environmental forcings to dictate how interannual variability (or long term trends) in ice coverage will affect bloom structure, size and dynamics. In doing so we will gain a better understanding of how predicted changes in sea ice will effect Southern Ocean productivity, which of course will have important consequences in the global carbon cycle and sustainability of healthy marine ecosystems.