LOUISIANA (KXAN) — Recent measurements taken by NOAA-supported researchers from Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) revealed this year’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” is more than 1,000 square miles smaller than the five-year average.
A “dead zone” is a large area of water containing almost no oxygen, which can lead to the deaths of large quantities of sea life. Here you can find NOAA’s original forecast for this year’s Gulf of Mexico dead zone in addition to a more in-depth explanation of the science behind dead zones.
The Gulf of Mexico dead zone, also known as a hypoxic zone, is primarily fueled by Mississippi River discharge and nutrient runoff. This year, the discharge from the Mississippi River was lower than normal, which has consequently resulted in a smaller hypoxic zone. While smaller than those in recent years, this year’s dead zone spans about 3,275 square miles, which is still well above the management target of 1,900 square miles by 2035.
According to NOAA, “‘This summer was an unusual year for Gulf hypoxia,’ said Nancy Rabalais, professor at Louisiana State University and LUMCON, who is the principal investigator. ‘The Mississippi River discharge was below the summer average. The lower flow is unable to support the normal layering of the water column, allowing dissolved oxygen from the surface waters to diffuse more easily to the seabed.'”
Measurements like the ones taken by LSU and LUMCON scientists are instrumental in helping us learn more about how our river systems and oceans interact, as well as how we can work to minimize the amount of sea life affected each year by hypoxic zones.