Image: NOAA

The Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” is a region of oxygen-depleted water off the Louisiana and Texas coasts that results from staggering levels of upstream nitrogen released from farms and other sources. The nitrogen then kills marine life and creates toxic algal blooms, much like the ones we witnessed last summer. Each year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) makes its predictions for the size of the dead zone and this year the bloom is expected to hit “near record” proportions.

An Ugly Forecast: As Earther reported,

  • An area the size of Massachusetts (approximately 7,829 square miles) could see an algae bloom that gobbles up oxygen and crowds out all aquatic life, creating an ecological and economic catastrophe.
  • Other forecasts range even higher, but all peg this as one of the worst dead zones ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico largely due to the Midwest floods.
  • A tropical storm spinning up could help break up the dead zone and prevailing winds could push it around. But the volume of the low-oxygen zone itself is unlikely to change.

Why This Matters: We all rely on the food that farmers plant but farming practices are causing great environmental and economic (for say, fishermen in the Gulf) harm. Fortunately, practices exist to benefit both farmers and the environment such as using cover crops, reduced tillage, crop rotation, and nutrient management. One of the biggest barriers to making these practices more widespread is that they can be costly to implement and farmers need federal help to do so. Federal programs that exist to help farmers enact conservation farming practices and are wildly popular but significantly under-funded.

Make it a Campaign Issue: President Trump proposed sweeping cuts to these programs but some 2020 Democratic candidates see the immense value in expanded conservation farming. For instance, Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed the creation of “ARPA-AG” (similar in nature to ARPA-E, a government-funded research agency) to promote research into climate-smart agriculture under the Department of Agriculture as part of his $9 trillion Inslee compares his “Evergreen Economy” climate action plan.

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