The Gulf of Mexico's ' Dead Zone ' could double in size this year

World's Aquatic Dead Zones

World's Aquatic Dead Zones

A recent expedition to the Gulf of Mexico has yielded the largest "dead zone" ever recorded in the area.

The low-oxygen dead zone along the Louisiana and Texas Gulf Coast measured 22,720 square kilometers (8,776 square miles), about the size of the USA state of New Jersey. Measuring 8,776 square miles, this massive patch of oxygen depleted water is wreaking havoc on the Gulf's marine life-a effect of unchecked agricultural runoff pouring down from the Mississippi River.

Robert Magnien, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says flows of nutrients this year were greater than normal.

The dead zone is close in size the 8,185 square mile area forecast by the NOAA in June.

Named because of the lack of sea-life in a designated zone due to poor oxygen levels, dead zones are usually caused by a chemical imbalance - in this case the runoff of nitrogen rich fertilizer used by farms.

This nutrient pollution, mainly from agriculture and developed land runoff in the Mississippi River watershed, is affecting coastal resources and habitats in the Gulf by stimulating algal growth. That algae eventually dies and sinks to the bottom of the ocean, using up the oxygen marine life needs to thrive. Studies suggest that dead zones in the Gulf are leading to fewer large shrimp, for instance.

The latest measurements in the Gulf were made by a team of scientists led by Louisiana State University and Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON).

New strategies such as the Runoff Risk Advisory Forecast are created to help farmers apply fertilizer at optimum times to limit nutrient runoff to the Gulf.

It's not immediately clear how voluntary measures to rectify the situation are actually going to shrink the Gulf Zone's dead zone to an annual average of 1,900 square miles, a goal set by the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force.

Scientists believe this year's record-breaking Gulf dead zone is the result of unusually heavy rains in the Midwest earlier this year.

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