Experts Predict Huge Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico this Summer

Source: NOAA

Yesterday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its annual prediction of the size of the Gulf of Mexico hypoxic or “dead” zone and it is expected to be nearly 8,000 square miles (roughly the size of the State of Massachusetts) and could rival the largest one ever, which happened in 2017.  This year’s “abnormally high amount of spring rainfall in many parts of the Mississippi River watershed, which led to record high river flows and much larger nutrient loading to the Gulf of Mexico” is a major factor in the huge size of this year’s dead zone.

Why This Matters:  The dead zone is caused in great measure by current agricultural practices — fertilizers flow off farmlands and into small drainage ditches and streams and eventually make their way into the rivers that flow into the Mississippi River, but also by urban runoff.  This type of pollution really adds up — this year 156,000 metric tons of nitrate and 25,300 metric tons of phosphorus flowed into the Gulf of Mexico in May alone. This volume of nitrogen pollution is 18 percent above the long-term average, and phosphorus loads are about 49 percent above the long-term average, according to NOAA’s press releaseOnce it reaches the Gulf of Mexico, all that nitrogen creates a huge amount of algae that eventually dies, then sinks and decomposes in the water and causing marine life there to “choke” and die or move away from the area.  They call it a “dead zone” for a reason.  Scientists are hoping to change agricultural practices and shrink it to an annual average of only 2000 square miles, which still seems huge, and we are a long way from achieving this goal.

By The Numbers: 

How Do We Know?

  • NOAA will confirm the size of the 2019 Gulf dead zone in early August, a key test of the accuracy of the models on which the forecast is based — this is only the second year NOAA has created the forecast on its own.
  • One other caveat — the NOAA forecast assumes typical coastal weather conditions, but the measured dead zone size could change by major wind events, hurricanes and tropical storms which mix ocean waters.
  • Ecowatch reported that researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) also predicted a large dead zone this year according to a statement on Monday predicting this year’s dead zone to be 8,717 square miles, making it nearly the same size as the largest ever.

Up Next

The House Select Committee’s “Blueprint” for Solving the Climate Crisis

The House Select Committee’s “Blueprint” for Solving the Climate Crisis

By Jean Flemma and Miriam Goldstein Historically, the ocean has been overlooked in the climate debate. That makes no sense. Ignoring the 71 percent of the planet that creates more than half the oxygen we breathe and has absorbed 90 percent of the excess heat created by climate change can hardly lead to a complete […]

Continue Reading 1040 words
First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm In Federal Waters Completed, Ready to Spin

First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm In Federal Waters Completed, Ready to Spin

On Monday, the state of Virginia and Dominion Energy announced the completion of the second offshore wind facility in the U.S. and the first one in federal waters.  Its two turbines sit 27 miles off the coast and when operational later this summer, will produce enough electricity to power 3000 homes.

Why This Matters:  If the waters off Virginia are suitable for wind farms, with their close proximity to ports, naval facilities, and tourism, then it is hard to imagine why wind power can’t be developed in many other areas along the U.S. coast.

Continue Reading 521 words
One Working Remotely Thing: The Wonders of The Coral Sea Discovered

One Working Remotely Thing: The Wonders of The Coral Sea Discovered

Recently, a deep-sea expedition to the Coral Sea northwest of Australia conducted by the Schmidt Ocean Institute, founded by Eric Schmidt, the former chairman of Google, and his wife, Wendy returned with stunning images to share.  Bill Broad of The New York Times wrote an in-depth story that featured the images and described some of the most important findings.

Why This Matters:  Aside from the many discoveries, such as 10 new species of fish, snails and sponges, the entire expedition was conducted remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic — which apparently is a global first, but is unlikely the last time that will happen.

Continue Reading 275 words