Largest "Dead Zone" Yet Predicted for the Gulf of Mexico

By Eliza Strickland | July 16, 2008 9:59 am

dead zoneThis summer, Louisiana researchers say the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico will reach record size, a prediction that troubles environmentalists and fishermen alike. Researchers say that blame for this record-setting year goes partly to farmers’ rising interest in ethanol, and partly to the aftermath of the Midwest flooding.

The dead zone is an area off the coast of Louisiana and Texas where the water’s oxygen level drops each summer, creating a zone which can’t support most marine life. The low oxygen, or hypoxic, area is primarily caused by high nutrient levels, which stimulates an overgrowth of algae that sinks and decomposes. The decomposition process in turn depletes dissolved oxygen in the water. The dead zone is of particular concern because it threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries [LiveScience].

Louisiana researchers developed a computer model that predicts how big the dead zone will be, using data from the US Geological Survey on how much nitrogen reaches the Gulf of Mexico each spring. This year, the team says more run-off than usual will have reached the Gulf [New Scientist]. They calculated that this summer’s dead zone will stretch over 8,800 square miles, an area about the size of New Jersey. That tops the previous record of 8,481 square miles, set in 2002.

Lead researcher R. Eugene Turner says the increase is in large part due to nitrogen leaking into the Mississippi from a huge increase in corn planting. The recent increase in corn crops is due to the nation’s increased efforts to find alternative fuel resources, such as corn-powered ethanol, he said [The Advocate]. The massive floods that devastated parts of the Midwest in June also washed large amounts of fertilizer from farms and lawns into the Mississippi River, which carried it down to the ocean where it fed the algae blooms.

Image: NOAA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Pingback: Ethanol’s effect on the “dead zone” |

  • http://none Dennis

    Ethanol will make the water worse if thats possible. Do what Pennsylvania has done make all households filter out the fertilizers and let the farmers continue to waist fertilizers in which we pay for by farm subsidies. Congress is owned by Agriculture because they receive subsidies also. Many farmers are elected to offices like are president. Its no wonder heart disease , strokes, breast cancer, bluebaby syndrome are high around farmers who pollute and have no love for there neighbors or the environment. Frankin Foods have left peoples brains like mad cow disease in which they shouldnt be allowed to vote. Here breast cancer is door to door and people here have high nitrates in the wells here since 1985. The clean water act dont pertain to farmers in which are above the law and even intentionaly spray at childrens bus stops. Welcome to Pennsylvania

  • Vadim

    You can do your part by not buying household products with high phosphorus content — like Electrasol, which has a 4.9-8.7% phosphorus concentration.

    Take a look:

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