NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts an average oxygen-depleted “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, the agency said Thursday. But that 35-year average is still nearly triple the target of reducing the area with too little oxygen for marine animal survival.
The combination of models developed by five universities resulted in a forecast of about 5,364 square miles (13,893 square kilometers), NOAA said in a press release. That’s a hair shy of the measured five-year average of 5,380 square miles (13,934 square kilometers) and about 15% less than last year’s measurement.
A federal state task force has set a long-term goal of reducing the dead zone, or hypoxic zone, to 1,900 square miles (4,920 square kilometers), or about 35 percent of the current average.
“The action plan to reduce the size of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone was established more than 20 years ago, but this year’s forecast is comparable to the 35-year average zone,” Don said. Scavia from the University of Michigan, who leads one of several research teams working with NOAA.
“Clearly, federal and state agencies and Congress continue to prioritize industrial agriculture over water quality,” Scavia, professor emeritus at the School for Environment and Sustainability, said in a statement. press release on the university’s website.
The Gulf dead zone is largely created by urban and agricultural runoff and discharges of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Mississippi River, which drains 41% of the continental United States. In the Gulf of Mexico, nutrients fuel a bloom of algae, which die and sink to the bottom, using oxygen from the ocean floor as they decompose.
Fish, shrimp and crabs can swim. Slow-moving or bottom-fixed animals cannot.
“The Gulf dead zone remains the largest hypoxic zone in U.S. waters, and we want to better understand its causes and impacts,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, deputy administrator of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “The modeling we do here is an important part of NOAA’s goal to protect, restore, and manage coastal and ocean resource use through ecosystem-based management.”
The problem is by no means unique to the United States.
“The number of dead zones around the world has increased over the past few decades and currently stands at more than 500,” wrote Louisiana State University scientists Nancy Rabalais, who have studied the phenomenon since 1985, and Eugene Turner in a separate statement Thursday.
In 1999, researchers knew of 61 hypoxic zones around the world.
The one that stretches along most of the Louisiana coast and into Texas waters “is the second-largest human-made coastal hypoxic zone in the global ocean,” Rabalais and Turner wrote.
The models used by NOAA were developed by the agency and scientists from LSU, Michigan, William & Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science, North Carolina State University, Dalhousie University and the US Geological Survey, which provides data on Mississippi Nutrients.
Some universities also publish their own forecasts. LSU, which views nitrogen levels in May as the main driver of the area’s size in July, projects its size this year at 5,881 square miles (15,233 square kilometers).
The Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico Interagency Hypoxia Task Force uses NOAA’s hypoxia prediction models and USGS nutrient monitoring to set nutrient reduction goals in US states. Mississippi watershed.
Officials noted that the bipartisan infrastructure law signed in November 2021 includes $60 million over five years for the Environmental Protection Agency to support nutrient reduction strategies in the watershed.
“The Hypoxia Task Force has a transformative opportunity to further control nutrient loads in the Mississippi River Basin and reduce the size of the hypoxic zone using bipartisan Infrastructure Act funding,” said John Goodin, director of the EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds. “This annual forecast is a key metric for assessing the progress made by the Hypoxia Task Force.”
To confirm the size of the hypoxic zone and refine forecast models, NOAA supports a monitoring survey each summer.
Because hurricanes and tropical storms boil water and mix with oxygen, one in the two weeks before the cruise could significantly reduce the dead zone.
“If a storm occurs, the size of the area should be 56% of the predicted size without the storm,” or about 3,294 square miles (8,530 square kilometers), Rabalais and Turner wrote in their forecast.