Antarctic Coastal Polynya Biophysical Interaction


Weifeng Gordon Zhang

This potential summer project is a part of an interdisciplinary, multi-PI National Science Foundation project to examine the connection of physical circulation with the phytoplankton and Emperor Penguin ecology in Antarctic coastal polynya regions. Coastal polynyas are isolated openings in the sea ice that are mostly formed by strong winds blowing from the continent toward the ocean. Antarctic coastal polynyas are hotspots of sea ice production and the primary source regions of Antarctic Bottom Water, the lower branch of the global overturning circulation. They sustain high levels of biological production and provide the main wintertime feeding grounds for predators, such as the iconic emperor penguins. Polynyas are thus an important component of the global ocean and a key part of the Antarctic ecosystems.  

This particular summer project is i) to compile existing physical (wind, sea ice, temperature, salinity, etc.) and biological observations in a variety of Antarctic coastal polynyas from different sources and ii) to investigate the dynamical connections between the winds, sea ice formation, polynya size/location/persistence, water column stratification, and phytoplankton bloom intensity. The existing observations will include measurements taken by satellites, ships, underwater gliders, tagged seals, etc. The summer student will also be able to interact with WHOI sea ice dynamists to examine the connection between sea ice formation and stratification, and with WHOI biological oceanographers to consider incorporating the physical influences into a phytoplankton dynamical model and an emperor penguin ecological model.

Weifeng Gordon Zhang's profile