• Antarctic;
  • diatom physiology;
  • ice algae;
  • irradiance;
  • photoadaptation;
  • photosynthesis;
  • sea ice


Sea ice microalgae are released from their relatively stable light environment to the water column seasonally, and any subsequent growth in a vertically mixed water column may depend, in part, on their photoadaptation rates. In this study we followed the time course of photoadaptation in natural sea ice algal communities from bottom ice and surface ice by measuring their photophysiological response to an artificial shift in the ambient irradiance field. Microalgae from under-ice habitats, were incubated under full sunlight (LL-HL) and microalgae from surface ice habitats were incubated under artificial light to mimic under-ice irradiance (HL-LL). During 3- to 4-day time course studies, opposite shifts in chlorophyll: carbon, α, PBm, and Ik were observed, depending on the direction of the irradiance change. First-order rate constants (k) ranged from 0.0067 to 0.29 h−1 for photosynthetic parameters, although PBm did not always show a clear change over time. Rates of photoadaptation for ice algae are comparable to k values reported for temperate phytoplankton, suggesting that sea ice algae may be equally capable of adapting to the light conditions experienced in a vertically mixed water column. This study presents the first evidence that sea ice microalgae are physiologically capable of adapting to a planktonic life and thus could serve as a seed population for polar marine phytoplankton blooms.