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Keywords:

  • primary production;
  • sea ice;
  • Larsen;
  • polynya;
  • phytoplankton;
  • Antarctica

[1] The climate-driven collapses of the Larsen A and B ice shelves have opened up new regions of the coastal Antarctic to the influence of sea ice resulting in increases in seasonal primary production. In this study, passive microwave remote sensing of sea ice concentration and satellite imagery of ocean color are employed to quantify the magnitude of and variability in open water area and net primary productivity (NPP) in the Larsen embayments between 1997 and 2011. Numerical model output provides context to analyze atmospheric forcing on the coastal ocean. Following ice shelf disintegration the embayments function as coastal, sensible heat polynyas. The Larsen A and B are as productive as other Antarctic shelf regions, with seasonally averaged daily NPP rates reaching 1232 and 1127 mg C m−2 d−1 and annual rates reaching 200 and 184 g C m−2 yr−1, respectively. A persistent cross-shelf gradient in NPP is present with higher productivity rates offshore, contrasting with patterns observed along the West Antarctic Peninsula. Embayment productivity is intimately tied to sea ice dynamics, with large interannual variability in NPP rates driven by open water area and the timing of embayment opening. Opening of the embayment is linked to periods of positive Southern Annular Mode and stronger westerlies, which lead to the vertical deflection of warm, maritime air over the peninsula and down the leeward side causing increases in surface air temperature and wind velocity. High productivity in these new polynyas is likely to have ramifications for organic matter export and marine ecosystem evolution.