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Environment

Gulf Of Mexico Dead Zone

Annual measurement reveals record hypoxic zone, but not necessarily related to the oil spill

by Cheryl Hogue
August 9, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 32

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Credit: Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium
The 2010 dead zone has several areas of low oxygen 
rather than the continuous band seen in past years. Researchers attribute this to tropical storms that swept across the Gulf in July.
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Credit: Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium
The 2010 dead zone has several areas of low oxygen 
rather than the continuous band seen in past years. Researchers attribute this to tropical storms that swept across the Gulf in July.

The 2010 low-oxygen dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest ever recorded at 7,772 sq miles, researchers from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium reported this week.

The dead zone forms each summer in waters from Texas to Louisiana after tons of nutrients, carried down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers during spring runoff, stimulate massive blooms of algae. The algae die, and bacteria that consume their carcasses deplete oxygen in the water to levels too low to support most marine life.

In May, Louisiana State University ecologist R. Eugene Turner studied the level of nitrogen compounds in the Gulf. From that data, he predicted a 2010 dead zone of between 7,400 and 8,500 sq miles. The extent of the hypoxic waters and nitrogen carried by runoff are unambiguously related, he said.

The large dead zone is the latest bad news for the Gulf, which is still dealing with oil from the BP rig explosion. Researchers, however, point out that the oil is not necessarily a factor in this year’s dead zone. “It would be difficult to link conditions seen this summer with oil from the BP spill,” added Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the consortium.

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