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NOAA Forecast Predicts Large 'Dead Zone' For Gulf Of Mexico This Summer
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A team of NOAA-supported scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Louisiana State University, and the University of Michigan is forecasting that the “dead zone” off the coast of Louisiana and Texas in the Gulf of Mexico this summer could be one of the largest on record. The dead zone is an area in the Gulf of Mexico where seasonal oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters.

Scientists are predicting the area could measure between 7,450 and 8,456 square miles, or an area roughly the size of New Jersey. However, additional flooding of the Mississippi River since May may result in a larger dead zone. The largest one on record occurred in 2002, measuring 8,484 square miles.

Dead zones are caused by nutrient runoff, principally from agricultural activity, which stimulates an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes, and consumes most of the life-giving oxygen supply in the water.

The dead zone size was predicted after researchers observed large amounts of nitrogen feeding into the Gulf from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. The rivers experienced heavy water flows in April and May that were 11 percent above average.

“The high water volume flows coupled with nearly triple the nitrogen concentrations in these rivers over the past 50 years from human activities has led to a dramatic increase in the size of the dead zone,” said Gene Turner, Ph.D., a lead forecast modeler from Louisiana State University.

This forecast helps coastal managers, policy makers, and the public better understand and combat the sources of the dead zones. For example, the models that generate this forecast have been used to determine nutrient reduction targets required to reduce the size of the dead zone. This hypoxic, or low-to-no oxygen area, is of particular concern because it threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries by destroying critical habitat.

“As with weather forecasts, this forecast uses multiple models to predict the range of the expected size of the dead zone. The strong track record of these models reinforces our confidence in the link between excess nutrients from the Mississippi River and the dead zone,” said Robert Magnien, Ph.D., director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “This advanced warning is just one example of NOAA’s growing ecological forecasting capabilities that allow managers to protect valuable resources and coastal economies in a proactive manner.”

NOAA has been funding investigations and forecast development for the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico since 1990 and currently oversees the two national hypoxia programs authorized by the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act. Data from the U.S. Geological Survey on river flow and nutrient concentrations this spring was critical information required by the models to produce the forecasts.

An announcement of the official size of the 2009 hypoxic zone, which is an annual requirement of the Gulf of Mexico Task Force Action Plan, will follow a NOAA-supported monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium on July 18-26.

In addition, NOAA’s Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program currently is providing near real-time data on the hypoxic zone during a five-week NOAA Fisheries Service summer fish survey in the northern Gulf of Mexico between June 8 and July 18.

The information is available on the NOAA’s Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Watch Web page. The objective of Hypoxia Watch is to develop new near-real-time data and map products using shipboard measurements of bottom-dissolved oxygen and to disseminate them over the Internet. These products form the basis for summertime advisories to fishermen in the North-central Gulf of Mexico, indicating where fish and other living marine resources may not be found due to low or non-existent oxygen levels.

NOAA understands and predicts changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.

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

Reader Comments

2 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

Hey, its the Corps Activity! Senator Questions the Corps on the Soil Dumping, Flood Protection & Recovery Jun 18, 2009 WASHINGTON, DC – “The Corps is charged with protecting our communities and improving our rivers, not polluting them,” said Bond “Missourians don’t want to dump farmland soil and their taxpayer dollars in the Missouri river.” As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Bond questioned Van Antwerp about the Obama Administration’s inclusion of 70 million dollars for the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery Project. Bond stressed that the previous project resulted in the construction of channels which dumped farmland soil into the Missouri river wasting taxpayer dollars and Missouri’s natural resources. During the hearing, Bond explained that the current plan to implement the Missouri River Recovery Project would result in the dumping of 548 million tons of farmland soil directly into the Missouri River containing 350,000 tons of phosphorus. Bond expressed concern that scientists believe phosphorus is a major factor causing hypoxia in the Gulf and the death of fish. He stressed that Missouri citizens and farmers levied a $41 million soil and water conservation tax upon themselves to remove excess soil containing phosphorus out of the river. In light of these actions, Bond questioned whether the Corps current plan to dump soil in the river was best use of taxpayer dollars.
   comment# 1   - Bob Perry · Bowling Green MO USA · Jun 22, 2009 @ 8:07am

The drought of this past year has caused many agri-persons to use the chemicals sold to them by a variety of corperate persons to deal with income loss,however since we are in a period of excessive climate change those whom have used the(stuff) that they had assumed would help thier produce should be held responsibible for the upcoming price of fish,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
   comment# 2   - Capt.Jerry Robbins · Ardmore,Ok. · Jul 20, 2011 @ 1:54am
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