Gulf’s ‘Dead Zone’ Much Smaller than Predicted

Scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and Louisiana State University found the size of this year’s Gulf of Mexico dead zone to be 8,000 square kilometers (just over 3,000 square miles).

The ‘Dead Zone’ is an area of water with too little oxygen to support marine life. Termed hypoxia, areas with this lack of oxygen form every year off the Mississippi coast, caused by algae blooms from the flow of nitrogen runoff in the Mississippi River.

“This was surprisingly small given the forecast to be among the largest ever and the expanse of the dead zone earlier this summer,” said Dr. Nancy Rabalais, chief scientist for the mapping expedition.

The 'Dead Zone.' Red areas indicate increased levels of phytoplankton, which reduces dissolved oxygen concentrations.

The interagency Gulf of Mexico/Mississippi River Watershed Nutrient Task Force goal is to reduce the dead zone to a size of 5,000 square kilometers (2,000 square miles) or less by 2015, based on a 5-year running average. This average is now at 15,670 square kilometers (6,000 square miles).

Don Parrish, AFBF’s environmental specialist, said any projections on the size of the dead zone in the Gulf need to be taken with a grain of salt, because the models appear to be very shoddy and the science is questionable. “This is an extremely complex issue and any change in public policy based on these models would be troubling,” he said.

One reason for this disparity between forecast and the actual size of the zone could be due to the fact that researchers insisted on assuming that corn acres will always increase because of the market for biofuels. Last year the number of planted corn acres decreased compared to 2007.

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