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Researchers: 2011 Gulf Of Mexico 'Dead Zone' Could Be Biggest Ever; Even Bigger Than Delaware And Rhode Island Combined

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Researchers from Texas A&M University have returned from a trip to examine the scope and size of this year's "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico and have measured it currently to be about 3,300 square miles, or roughly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, but some researchers anticipate it becoming much larger.

Oceanography professor Steve DiMarco, one of the country's leading authorities on the dead zone, says the team of researchers journeyed more than 1,400 miles throughout the Gulf over a five-day period, the first ever focusing on the month of June.

DiMarco says the size of the dead zone off coastal Louisiana has been routinely monitored for about 25 years. Previous research has also shown that nitrogen levels in the Gulf related to human activities have tripled over the past 50 years. During the past five years, the dead zone has averaged about 5,800 square miles and has been predicted to exceed 9,400 square miles this year, which would make it one of the largest ever recorded, according to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. (

Hypoxia occurs when oxygen levels in seawater drop to dangerously low levels, and severe hypoxia can potentially result in fish kills and harm marine life, thereby creating a "dead zone" of life in that particular area.

Because of record amounts of water flowing from the Mississippi River into the Gulf, there is keen interest in the dead zone areas this year, DiMarco explains, adding that the size of this year's dead zone could still change because large amounts of water are still flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi River.

DiMarco says he will examine the area again on Aug. 8 and will visit many of the same locations for additional data. In all, 10 researchers, including six graduate students, helped to collect data on the latest cruise, which was funded by the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research and Texas Sea Grant.

"This was the first-ever research cruise conducted to specifically target the size of hypoxia in the month of June," DiMarco says. "We found three distinct hypoxic areas. One was near the Barataria and Terrebonne region off the Louisiana coast, the second was south of Marsh Island (also Louisiana) and the third was off the Galveston coast. We found no hypoxia in the 10 stations we visited east of the Mississippi delta."

"The largest areas of hypoxia are still around the Louisiana coast, where you would expect them because of the huge amounts of fresh water still coming down from the Mississippi River," he adds. "The hypoxic area extends about 50 miles off the coast. The farther you go west toward Texas, there is still hypoxia, but less severe. However, we did see noticeable hypoxia near the Galveston area."

The Mississippi is the largest river in the United States, draining 40 percent of the land area of the country. It also accounts for almost 90 percent of the freshwater runoff into the Gulf of Mexico.

Participating at sea with DiMarco was Research Scientist Matt Howard. Shore-based participants from the oceanography department were professors Lisa Campbell and Wilf Gardner, as well as Antonietta Quigg from Texas A&M University-Galveston.

Views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of, its staff or its advertisers.

Reader Comments

13 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

The experts were wrong before you don't suppose they are AGAIN.
   comment# 1   - Lloyd B. Windle · Willcox, AZ USA · Jul 16, 2011 @ 7:06pm

Freshwater critters -in general-cannot live in salty water.So when they are swept into the ocean;they die.And rot.Rotting consumes oxygen.Oceanic creatures dont like fresh water.So they avoid it. I imagine that the fertilizer that is swept into the oceanic waters enhances this effect[hypoxia],And[hopefully] now that persistent herbicides and insecticides are being less used on our crops;the borderlines between the hypoxic and O2 areas will be bountiful grazing areas for the species which are consumed by the species that the fishermen collect.The seabottoms where the anaerobic critters live may also benefit from the organic particles which fall upon them.
   comment# 2   - frank hayes · usa · Jul 16, 2011 @ 9:18pm

Whay can't we devert excess water to parts of the country in the west that are experincing drought from the mississippi,missouri rivers and evan the east coast where theres a lot of flooding after all we did build a oil eight hundred mile oil pipeline and make it a work project like the W.P.A during the depression to put people back to work
   comment# 3   - Jim · USA · Jul 17, 2011 @ 5:04am

I agree with Jim. Here in El Paso and throughout the desert southwest we have solar and wind energy, much more than we could ever use. Why can this not be harvested and traded to the wetter states for their water which we have almost none of. Ditto the pipeline project. Divert the water from areas prone to flooding and from the Mississippi river, help communities, the gulf of Mexico, drought and flood stricken areas and create jobs. Sounds like a job for the federal government.
   comment# 4   - Michele · El Paso, USA · Jul 17, 2011 @ 6:35am

We need to rethink of what kind of chemicals we all put into ANY water supply; I take exception to Jim's comments about water sharing; living amongst the Great Lakes, I don't feel obligated to supply the 9 Billion on the planet with drinking water.
   comment# 5   - Amy · Mason USA · Jul 17, 2011 @ 7:57am

Why arent we using this water for a purpose? We have all these shortages, could this not put out fires? Water lawns? Be used for other things and at the same time save a part of the ocean? Makes absolutely no sense. this goverment of ours is never looking out for whats best anymore. Its ridiculous.
   comment# 6   - grace · ocala,USA · Jul 17, 2011 @ 11:58am

While it sounds like a GREAT idea, it will never happen. Do you really have a huge over-abundnce of water every year? does it flood every year? No - and it would be impossible to predict. Not to mention, I'm sure something that large could not be turned off and on like a faucet. It doesn't work that way people. Then the people who count on the water, would have to find other means ion a non-flood year, or just empty the Mississippi river......great idea - just not very likely to happen.
   comment# 7   - Pablo · AZ, USA · Jul 17, 2011 @ 5:09pm

I, like many of you commenting, have often wondered why water cannot be redirected to where it is needed. Using locks, pumps and already existing canals which grid the landscape from New York to California, water could be moved around quite readily, especially if combined with the use of wind, water and solar power. One could even envision a water-based transportation system which would make up for the destruction of the railroads and the continuation of the internal combustion engine and petroleum-based fuels. I realize that some of you think it would be crazy to invest in such a project, the off-shoots of the project in jobs, creating wealth, new industries, etc. would no doubt far exceed the investment and benefits that have been made in the highway systems and the internal combustion engine over the last 50+ years. Of course, it would require the dismantling of the war machine and redirecting those resources into national investment. Instead, we watch a completely deadlocked government in D.C. doing nothing but building up the debt to the point where interest can't even be paid.
   comment# 8   - Ralph · Colorado Springs · Jul 17, 2011 @ 6:29pm

lets spend a trillion on this project that you make sound so easy to execute u freakin tree huggers
   comment# 9   - tim · new, ny · Jul 17, 2011 @ 10:21pm

Amy in Mason. You don't feel obligated to share drinking water? I hope you never find yourself in a postion that you need ask anyone for a drink! I find it appalling that a system isn't set up to share water across the country. We've always got one area flooding when another is in a drought. We send people to space stations, sharing water from one area to another seems pretty basic.
   comment# 11   - Darcy · Kapolei USA · Jul 18, 2011 @ 1:30am

We need to remember that we are all of one family, living in one house and think just how nice it could be if we all sharedwhat we have with every one.Thear would be no rich, no poor, no hungry,no homeless, no sad , and I,m sure thear would be mutch less sickness.
   comment# 10   - john peters · eastbank,wv.usa · Jul 18, 2011 @ 12:58pm

There are different environments all across this planet for the purpose of allowing for different types of life to live where it is best suited. Humans should learn to live within their environment as it is, and not constantly be trying to change what is around them to suit their whims. when we change a location to suit our needs, we destroy it for the life that was there before us. If you choose to live in the desert then you must learn to live the way desert creatures live or move to a more suitable location. You may not like this analogy but it is the law of nature, you may say we are dominate species so we can do what we please, I beg to differ as nature is bigger and it will eventually beat us.
   comment# 12   - Kurt · Ketchikan, Alaska · Jul 20, 2011 @ 12:43am

We are part of nature whether you except that or not. We are organisms just like a bird or insect. However, we have the ability to adapt our surroundings to suit us. Is it wrong for us to use what we have learned over the hundreds, thousands, or hundred of thousands years. We learned to gather plants then learned to farm same with domesticating animals. We do these huge feats because nature has programmed us to survive. Look at ants there are ants that grow fungus for a reliable food source. There are also ants that farm aphids, heck some ants will even wage wars on other ant colonies and the winner will enslave the losers. I wonder if within the ant colonies they have debates about expansion. My point is we can adapt others cannot and that's not our problem. If you want something to blame, blame nature.
   comment# 13   - Andy · sunrise, florida · Sep 19, 2011 @ 4:00pm
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