‘Dead Zone’ is bigger than ever before

July 16th, 2008 - 1:11 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, July 16 (IANS) A “Dead Zone” that develops every year in the Gulf of Mexico is larger than ever before this summer, according to scientists who monitor this annual phenomenon. The Dead Zone - so called because it is almost completely devoid of life - is the result of the proliferation of an algae that sucks up all the oceanic oxygen and makes it difficult for other organisms to survive.

Louisiana State University scientists said it is likely to be bigger than ever because of a large influx of nitrogen and greater flows from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, which bring in agricultural waste, another factor contributing to the making of the Dead Zone.

Scientists predict that Dead Zone this year could measure a record 22,792 square km, or about double the size of Goa state. The previous record for the zone was in 2002, when it measured 21,965 square kms.

The low oxygen, or hypoxic, area is primarily caused by high nutrient levels, which stimulates an overgrowth of algae that sinks and decomposes, the website Livescience reported.

The decomposition process in turn depletes dissolved oxygen in the water. The dead zone is of particular concern because it threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries.

Research indicates that the near tripling of nitrogen levels into the Gulf over the past 50 years from human activities has led to a dramatic increase in the size of the dead zone, according to a statement released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“The strong link between nutrients and the dead zone indicates that excess nutrients from the Mississippi river watershed during the spring are the primary human-influenced factor behind the expansion of the dead zone,” said Rob Magnien, NOAA director.

“This analysis will greatly inform the development of federal, state and local efforts to reduce the dead zone’s size.”

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