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Scientists locate dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico -- but it's smaller than anticipated

Digital writers

Monday, July 29, 2013, 3:13 PM -

NOAA scientists have discovered a large area void of oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico, but it's smaller than scientists thought it would be.

File photo/Wikimedia Commons

File photo/Wikimedia Commons

The zone, which measures 5,840 square miles and is roughly the size of Connecticut, is largely the result of heavy rains which have increased the flow of pollutants down the Mississippi River.

“A near-record area was expected because of wet spring conditions in the Mississippi watershed and the resultant high river flows which deliver large amounts of nutrients,” said Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D. executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, in a statement, “but nature’s wind-mixing events and winds forcing the mass of low oxygen water towards the east resulted in a slightly above average bottom footprint.”

According to NOAA oxygen deficiency, or hypoxia, is spurred by runoff from human activity and agriculture. This creates an abundance of algae that sinks and depletes oxygen as it decomposes.

The size of dead zones fluctuate each year, depending on the weather conditions and the amount of runoff.

The largest dead zone ever recorded measured 8,481 square miles in 2002, smallest was 15 square miles in 1998.

The average size over the past five years is 5,176 square miles -- more than double the 1,900 square mile goal set by authorities in 2001.

Robert Magnien, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, says the research provides information that will help manage and restore beleaguered coastlines.

 “For those who depend upon and enjoy the abundant natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico, it is imperative that we intensify our efforts to reduce nutrient pollution before the ecosystem degrades any further," he added.

Map showing dead zone on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2013 (courtesy: NOAA)

Map showing dead zone on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2013 (courtesy: NOAA)

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