Mapping and assessing variability in the Antarctic marginal ice zone, pack ice and coastal polynyas in two sea ice algorithms with implications on breeding success of snow petrels
Abstract. Sea ice variability within the marginal ice zone (MIZ) and polynyas plays an important role for phytoplankton productivity and krill abundance. Therefore, mapping their spatial extent as well as seasonal and interannual variability is essential for understanding how current and future changes in these biologically active regions may impact the Antarctic marine ecosystem. Knowledge of the distribution of MIZ, consolidated pack ice and coastal polynyas in the total Antarctic sea ice cover may also help to shed light on the factors contributing towards recent expansion of the Antarctic ice cover in some regions and contraction in others. The long-term passive microwave satellite data record provides the longest and most consistent record for assessing the proportion of the sea ice cover that is covered by each of these ice categories. However, estimates of the amount of MIZ, consolidated pack ice and polynyas depend strongly on which sea ice algorithm is used. This study uses two popular passive microwave sea ice algorithms, the NASA Team and Bootstrap, and applies the same thresholds to the sea ice concentrations to evaluate the distribution and variability in the MIZ, the consolidated pack ice and coastal polynyas. Results reveal that the seasonal cycle in the MIZ and pack ice is generally similar between both algorithms, yet the NASA Team algorithm has on average twice the MIZ and half the consolidated pack ice area as the Bootstrap algorithm. Trends also differ, with the Bootstrap algorithm suggesting statistically significant trends towards increased pack ice area and no statistically significant trends in the MIZ. The NASA Team algorithm on the other hand indicates statistically significant positive trends in the MIZ during spring. Potential coastal polynya area and amount of broken ice within the consolidated ice pack are also larger in the NASA Team algorithm. The timing of maximum polynya area may differ by as much as 5 months between algorithms. These differences lead to different relationships between sea ice characteristics and biological processes, as illustrated here with the breeding success of an Antarctic seabird.