Spatial and temporal variability and connectivity of the marine environment of the South Sandwich Islands, Southern Ocean
The South Sandwich Islands form the eastern boundary to the highly biologically productive Scotia Sea in the southwest Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean and are part of a large Marine Protected Area. The South Sandwich Islands have a complex marine environment that is influenced by both the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Weddell Gyre, and seasonal sea ice. Here we investigate the local and regional dynamics and variability of the ocean and sea ice to inform management of the region. Remotely sensed sea surface temperature (SST), sea ice concentration and chlorophyll a data from 2009 to 2021 are used to define the mean seasonal cycle in the environment and the associated temporal and spatial variability. While sea surface temperature and sea ice have a clearly defined seasonality, local chlorophyll blooms are irregular in both timing, location and magnitude. Interannual variability in SST is strongly positively correlated along the island arc. The islands experience very different winter sea ice conditions from year to year, with marked variability in sea ice distribution and duration. Surface chlorophyll blooms develop in most years close to the island arc, but there is little spatial consistency and there are years where blooms are not observed. The timing and pattern of sea ice retreat appears to be a key driver in the formation of chlorophyll blooms, with their propagation affected by local circulation, but additional local processes are also important. Trajectories of near-surface satellite tracked surface buoys and Argo floats, together with an analysis of sea surface height output from a global reanalysis product, demonstrate the connectivity of the South Sandwich Islands to the wider regional marine system. Enhanced current flows around and between the South Sandwich Islands are likely to affect the transport and exchange of material along the island arc. The South Sandwich Islands are connected with the Scotia and Weddell seas, with contribution from the different regions varying according to latitude along the island arc. There are also connections with islands downstream including Bouvet, Crozet and Kerguelen Islands and seamounts, with possible return flow via the Weddell Gyre. Our analyses indicate that accounting for the complexity and variability in the South Sandwich Islands marine environment will be crucial in the development of conservation and fisheries management procedures.
Authors: Thorpe, Sally E. ORCID record for Sally E. Thorpe, Murphy, Eugene J. ORCID record for Eugene J. Murphy