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  1. Abstract

    As the physical environment of the Arctic Ocean shifts seasonally from ice‐covered to open water, the limiting resource for phytoplankton growth shifts from light to nutrients. To understand the phytoplankton photophysiological responses to these environmental changes, we evaluated photoacclimation strategies of phytoplankton during the low‐light, high‐nutrient, ice‐covered spring and the high‐light, low‐nutrient, ice‐free summer. Field results show that phytoplankton effectively acclimated to reduced irradiance beneath the sea ice by maximizing light absorption and photosynthetic capacity. In fact, exceptionally high maximum photosynthetic rates and efficiency observed during the spring demonstrate that abundant nutrients enable prebloom phytoplankton to become “primed” for increases in irradiance. This ability to quickly exploit increasing irradiance can help explain the ability of phytoplankton to generate massive blooms beneath sea ice. In comparison, phytoplankton growth and photosynthetic rates are reduced postbloom due to severe nutrient limitation. These results advance our knowledge of photoacclimation by polar phytoplankton in extreme environmental conditions and indicate how phytoplankton may acclimate to future changes in light and nutrient resources under continued climate change.

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