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MARI/CCPO Seminar Series

Climate Change and the Coastal Antarctic Ecosystem: Results from the Amundsen Sea Polynya International Research Expedition (ASPIRE)

r. Patricia Yager, University of Georgia

The Amundsen Sea hosts the most productive polynya in all of coastal Antarctica, with its vibrant green waters visible from satellites. Despite being about as far as you can get from human civilization, it is also one of the global regions most vulnerable to climate change, experiencing rapid losses in both sea ice cover and the nearby western Antarctic ice sheet. Here I will report on the results from the Amundsen Sea Polynya International Research Expedition (ASPIRE) that investigated the processes responsible for this high productivity and the fate of the bloom, with an eye towards predicting how this system will respond to further change. A new Special Feature in the journal, ( ya-international-research-expedition/) is the first full-team effort to report individual findings and synthesize our results into a complete picture of this extraordinary ecosystem. Currently there are 10 papers published and 4 more in progress. We show a tight connection between the melting ice sheet and the provision of iron to support the phytoplankton productivity. Carbon budgets show the region to be an extraordinary CO2 sink from the atmosphere. Another key variable, however, is the changing seasonal sea ice, which is also important to the ecosystem function. Computer simulations (numerical models) are needed to tease apart the net impact of these two interacting climate sensitivities. It remains to be seen whether an increase in the rate of melting predicted for the ice sheet will increase delivery of iron to the polynya and increase phytoplankton productivity and carbon sequestration. A synthesis and modeling collaboration ("INSPIRE") began this year with oceanographers from ODU.