Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Reaches the Size of Connecticut This Year (VIDEO)
Each year, the Gulf of Mexico develops a dead zone, an area that's so low in oxygen that little can survive. Now, scientists have taken a look at this year's dead zone and have found that it measures a total of 5,052 square miles--approximately the size of Connecticut.
That's not to say that this finding is surprising, though. Researchers predicted that the area would fall anywhere between 4,633 and 5,708 square miles after examining the amount of nutrients pouring into the gulf from the Mississippi River watershed.
This year's dead zone is actually smaller than the 5,840 square miles of last year. However, it's far above the target of 1,900 square miles that the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient (Hypoxia) Task Force set. That said, it may be quite some time before that goal is reached.
The dead zone is essentially caused by an excess influx of nutrients from the rivers flowing into the gulf-mainly, the Mississippi River watershed. This watershed carries fertilizers, soils, and other nutrients from farms and lands far upstream. With heavy rains, even more nutrients can wash into rivers and even more can make it to the sea. Once there, the nutrients fuel algae blooms which, when they die off, can suck up excess oxygen with their decay and can cause hypoxic conditions.
"The Mississippi River discharge levels and associated nutrient data, supplies in May by the USGS, pointed to an average size hypoxia area based on the inputs which fuel mid-summer's dead zone algal growth," said Nancy Rabalais, one of the researchers who led the survey cruise, in a news release. "If the heavy rains in the upper Midwest in June and the record high nitrate concentration in the Mississippi River at Baton Rouge on July 18 had coincided with a later survey, chances are that the area would have been larger. The high phytoplankton biomass and large area of fresher water would have eventually led to more bottom-water hypoxia."
The number of dead zones throughout the world have been increasing in recent years. This, in particular, highlights the importance of taking steps to reduce the flow of nutrients into waterways in the future.