Sea ice algae are primary producers of the ice-covered oceans in both polar regions. Changes in sea ice distribution are potentially altering exposure to photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and ultraviolet-B (UV-B) wavelengths of light. Incubations using monospecific cultures of common species from the Ross Sea, Antarctic Peninsula and Arctic Ocean were carried out at ecologically relevant light levels during periods of 7 days to examine tolerance to conditions likely to be faced during sea ice thinning and melt. Algal responses were assessed using chlorophyll fluorescence techniques and superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity. Quantum yields of cultures incubated in the dark and at ambient light did not differ. At higher light levels, the Ross Sea and Arctic cultures showed no significant change in photosynthetic health. Cultures from the Antarctic Peninsula showed a significant decrease. Antarctic cultures showed no detectable changes in SOD activity. Arctic culture showed dynamic changes, initially increasing, then decreasing to the end of the study. The general lack of significant changes signals the need for further parameters to be assessed during such experiments. The coupling between measured parameters appeared to protect photosynthetic health, even though significant effects have been detected in other studies when subjected to PAR or UV-B alone.