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The Gulf Dead Zone Update

August 3, 2013

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are reporting that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is smaller than initially forecast, covering 5,840 square miles—an area roughly the size of the state of Connecticut. Earlier this year they had forecast that the dead zone would be at least 7,286 square miles.

The dead zone is just one of more than 400 around the world—a dramatic increase from the 49 that were identified in the 1960s.  Most are caused by fertilizer use for agricultural production. As excess fertilizers run off into rivers and make their way into lakes and oceans, they fuel algae blooms. As the algae and phytoplankton die, their decomposition consumes dissolved oxygen, creating large hypoxic areas in the oceans and lakes incapable of supporting aquatic life.

The decreased size of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone is likely the result of the drought that gripped much of the American Midwest this year, with less rainfall leading to less runoff and smaller algae blooms. However, as the drought subsides, the blooms in the Gulf of Mexico could grow again, threatening commercial fishing and wild ocean life in the region.

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