Scientists predict 'very large dead zone' in Gulf of Mexico

Nancy Rabalais on the July 2017 Gulf of Mexico dead zone research cruise

Nancy Rabalais on the July 2017 Gulf of Mexico dead zone research cruise

Scientists warn that the "dead zone" wreaking havoc on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico will cover nearly 9,000 square miles this summer.

Those fertilizers contain nitrates and phosphorous, which go into the Mississippi River water and empties into the Gulf.

That led to record amounts of water carrying large amounts of fertilizer and other nutrients downriver, it said.

The record set in 2017 is 8,776 square miles (22,700 square kilometers), a bit smaller than Turkey.

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is the second largest in the world.

By posing a significant threat to regional marine life, the pollution that causes the gulf dead zone jeopardizes the tens of billions of dollars generated by commercial fishing in the area. The algae die, sink, decompose, and deplete the water of oxygen, which many marine creatures require for survival.

US scientists on Monday warned that because of runoff from human activities-such as urbanization and agriculture-this summer's "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is forecast to be one of the worst on record.

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'While this year's zone will be larger than usual because of the flooding, the long-term trend is still not changing, ' University of MI aquatic ecologist Don Scavia, professor emeritus at the School for Environment and Sustainability, said in a news release.

Scientists had said earlier that widespread flooding made a large dead zone likely this year.

We need to create and use more ecologically friendly fertilizers so that when this flooding happens, it doesn't take it to the Gulf to create these dead zones in the first place. The forecast assumes typical coastal weather conditions, but the measured dead zone size could be disrupted and its size could change by major wind events, hurricanes and tropical storms that mix ocean waters, as occurred in 2018. "This year's historic and sustained river flows will test the accuracy of these models in extreme conditions, which are likely to occur more frequently in the future, according to the latest National Climate Assessment".

This map shows how pollution from cities and farms flows down into the Gulf of Mexico.

A task force of federal, tribal and state agencies from 12 of the 31 states that make up the Mississippi River watershed set a goal almost two decades ago of reducing the dead zone from an average of about 5,800 square miles to an average of 1,900.

"When the oxygen is below two parts per million, any shrimp, crabs, and fish that can swim away, will swim away", Louisiana State University ocean ecologist Nancy Rabalais told the National Geographic magazine.

The NOAA forecast integrates the results of these multiple independent models into a separate average forecast and is released in coordination with these external groups, some of which are also developing independent forecasts.

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