Extreme anomalous atmospheric circulation in the West Antarctic Peninsula region in Austral Spring and Summer 2001/02, and its profound impact on sea ice and biota

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Journal of Climate
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Exceptional sea ice conditions occurred in the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) region from September 2001 to February 2002, resulting from a strongly positive atmospheric pressure anomaly in the South Atlantic coupled with strong negative anomalies in the Bellingshausen - Amundsen and southwest Weddell Seas. This created a strong and persistent north-northwesterly flow of mild and moist air across the WAP. In situ, satellite, and NCEP - NCAR Reanalysis (NNR) data are used to examine the profound and complex impact on regional sea ice, oceanography, and biota. Extensive sea ice melt, leading to an ocean mixed layer freshening and widespread ice surface flooding, snow - ice formation, and phytoplankton growth, coincided with extreme ice deformation and dynamic thickening. Sea ice dynamics were crucial to the development of an unusually early and rapid ( short) retreat season ( negative ice extent anomaly). Strong winds with a dominant northerly component created an unusually compact marginal ice zone and a major increase in ice thickness by deformation and over-rafting. This led to the atypical persistence of highly compact coastal ice through summer. Ecological effects were both positive and negative, the latter including an impact on the growth rate of larval Antarctic krill and the largest recorded between-season breeding population decrease and lowest reproductive success in a 30-yr Adelie penguin demographic time series. The unusual sea ice and snow cover conditions also contributed to the formation of a major phytoplankton bloom. Unexpectedly, the initial bloom occurred within compact sea ice and could not be detected in Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS) ocean color data. This analysis demonstrates that sea ice extent alone is an inadequate descriptor of the regional sea ice state/conditions, from both a climatic and ecological perspective; further information is required on thickness and dynamics/deformation.


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