Thank You!
Search OCA:
Get Local!

Find Local News, Events & Green Businesses on OCA's State Pages:

OCA News Sections

Organic Consumers Association

Why This Year's Gulf Dead Zone Is Twice As Big As Last Year's

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our CAFO's vs. Free Range page.

First, the good news: The annual "dead zone" that smothers much of the northern Gulf of Mexico-caused by an oxygen-sucking algae bloom mostly fed by Midwestern farm runoff-is smaller this year than scientists had expected. In the wake of heavy spring rains, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been projecting 2013's fish-free region of the Gulf to be at least 7,286 square miles and as much as 8,561 square miles-somewhere between the size of New Jersey on the low end to New Hampshire on the high end. Instead, NOAA announced, it has clocked in at 5,840 square miles-a bit bigger than Connecticut. It's depicted in the above graphic.

Now, for the bad news: this year's "biological desert" (NOAA's phrase) is much bigger than last year's, below, which was relatively tiny because Midwestern droughts limited the amount of runoff that made it into the Gulf. At about 2,900 square miles, the 2012 edition measured up to be about a third again as large as Delaware

Smaller than expected though it may be, this year's model is still more than twice as large as NOAA's targeted limit of less than 2,000 square miles. Here's how recent dead zones stack up-note that the NOAA target has been met only once since 1990. Low years, like 2012 and 2009, tend to marked by high levels of drought; and high years, like 2008, by heavy rains and flooding.

Why such massive annual dead zones? It's a matter of geography and concentration and intensification of fertilizer-dependent agriculture. Note that an enormous swath of the US landmass-41 percent of it-drains into the Mississippi River Basin, as shown below. It's true that even under natural conditions, a river that captures as much drainage as the Mississippi is going to deliver some level of nutrients to the sea, which in turn will generate at least some algae. But when US Geological Service researchers looked at the fossil record in 2006, they found that major hypoxia events (the technical name for dead zones) were relatively rare until around 1950-and have been increasingly common ever since. The mid-20th century is also when farmers turned to large-scale use of synthetic fertilizers. Now as much a part of Mississippi Delta life as crawfish boils, the Gulf dead zone wasn't even documented as a phenomenon until 1972, according to NOAA.       


>>> Read the Full Article

For more information on this topic or related issues you can search the thousands of archived articles on the OCA website using keywords: