Gulf of Mexico 'Dead Zone' the Size of Connecticut

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Oceanic researchers revealed that a man-made "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico has bloomed to roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), dead zones are hypoxic areas in large bodies of water, caused by "excessive nutrient pollution from human activities coupled with other factors that deplete the oxygen required to support most marine life in bottom and near-bottom water."

The Gulf dead zone, which occurs annually at springtime, is roughly 5,000 square miles in size at present, and is the second largest in the world, behind the zone in the Baltic Sea around Finland. Though, the oxygen-depleted area fluctuates in diameter. In 2002, the zone comprised 8,400 square miles, and in 1988 it was only 15 square miles.

Louisiana State University researchers discuss the dead zone in the Gulf:

Gene Turner, a researcher at LSU's Coastal Ecology Institute, explains that the main cause of the annual dead zone is excess nutrient runoff from farms along the Mississippi River.

The nutrients in the farm waste feed algae growth, which consumes oxygen as it works its way to the bottom of the Gulf. "It's a poster child for how we are using and abusing our natural resources," Turner commented.

Here is an NOAA clip concerning the Gulf dead zone:

According to a report by Turner and research associate Nancy Rabalais, there are roughly 550 dead zones worldwide at present, and the number has been increasing for decades. The Gulf dead zone began to form in the 1970s, as an increase in agriculture lead to an increase in pollution. The zone has been steadily growing since, though Turner remarked that "floods, droughts, storms and other factors affect the volume of nutrients flowing into the Gulf and account for year-over-year fluctuations."

Rabalais added, "It seems to have leveled out in size, but it could get worse."

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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