25 Apr 2022
25 Apr 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal TC.

Evolution of the dynamics, area and ice production of the Amundsen Sea Polynya, Antarctica, 2016–2021

Grant J. Macdonald, Stephen F. Ackley, and Alberto M. Mestas-Nuñez Grant J. Macdonald et al.
  • NASA Center for Advanced Measurements in Extreme Environments (CAMEE), University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX 78249, USA

Abstract. Polynyas are key sites of ice production during the winter and are important sites of biological activity and carbon sequestration during the summer. The Amundsen Sea Polynya (ASP) is the fourth largest Antarctic polynya, has recorded the highest primary productivity and lies in an embayment of key oceanographic significance. However, knowledge of its dynamics, and of sub-annual variations in its area and ice production, is limited. In this study we primarily utilize Sentinel-1 SAR imagery, sea ice concentration products and climate reanalysis data, along with bathymetric data, to analyze the ASP over the period November 2016–March 2021. Specifically, we analyze (i) qualitative changes in the ASP’s characteristics and dynamics, and quantitative changes in (ii) summer polynya area, (iii) winter polynya area and ice production. From our analysis of SAR imagery we find that ice produced by the ASP becomes stuck in the vicinity of the polynya and sometimes flows back into the polynya, contributing to its closure and limiting further ice production. The polynya forms westward off a persistent chain of grounded icebergs that are located at the site of a bathymetric high. Grounded icebergs also influence the outflow of ice and facilitate the formation of a ‘secondary polynya’ at times. Additionally, unlike some polynyas, ice produced by the polynya flows westward after formation, along the coast and into the neighboring sea sector. During the summer and early winter, broader regional sea ice conditions can play an important role in the polynya. The polynya opens in all summers, but record-low sea ice conditions in 2016/17 cause it to become part of the open ocean. During the win-ter, an average of 78 % of ice production occurs in April–May and September–October, but large polynya events often associated with high winds can cause ice production throughout the winter. While passive microwave data or daily sea ice concentration products remain key for analyzing variations in polynya area and ice production, we find that the ability to directly observe and qualitatively analyze the polynya at a high temporal and spatial resolution with Sentinel-1 imagery provides important insights about the behavior of the polynya that are not possible with those datasets.

Grant J. Macdonald et al.

Status: open (until 29 Jun 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on tc-2022-51', Anonymous Referee #1, 25 May 2022 reply

Grant J. Macdonald et al.

Video supplement

Video S2 Macdonald, G. J.

Video S3 Macdonald, G. J.

Video S1 Macdonald, G. J.

Grant J. Macdonald et al.


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Short summary
Polynyas are key sites of sea ice production, biological activity and carbon sequestration. The Amundsen Sea Polynya is of particular interest due to its size and location. By analyzing radar imagery and climate and sea ice data products we evaluate variations in the dynamics, area and ice production of the Amundsen Sea Polynya. In particular, we find the local sea floor topography and associated grounded icebergs play an important role in the polynyas dynamics, influencing ice production.