Wildlife Wednesdays: 'Dead Zone' in the Gulf of Mexico | weatherology°
By: Meteorologist Megan Mulford
Updated: Jun 19th 2019

Wildlife Wednesdays: 'Dead Zone' in the Gulf of Mexico

It has been a very wet spring all across the Midwest. In fact, it has actually been record breaking! This is due to the following things: the position of the jet stream and several lows (many becoming stationary) that have moved across the area. All of this rain has led to severe flooding across parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, and Illinois. This area of the Midwest is known as the nation's farmland, which is being greatly affected by the floods. Another place being affected by the floods is the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists are predicting the "Dead Zone" in the Gulf of Mexico to increase by the summer and be larger than the 5-year average measured size of 5,770 square miles!

The "Dead Zone" is nothing new, since it occurs every summer. It is an area that habits very little to no marine life due to low oxygen. This happens annually and is also known as a "Hypoxic Zone," and they are all over the world. The one in the Gulf is the second largest in the world! The process involves rain that has fallen on fertilizer-enriched farmland. As the farm fields flood, the runoff (which includes the fertilizer and nutrients) makes its way into streams and rivers, which all lead into the Gulf of Mexico. The excess in nutrients will cause algae to burst into a bloom. The algae then dies, sinks to the ocean floor, and decomposes. This process sucks all the oxygen from the water, leaving the water toxic, resulting in fish suffocating or fleeing. This past May, discharge (filled with nitrate and phosphorus) in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers was about 67% above the long-term average between 1980-2018! With this year's rain, the impact could be devastating to the Gulf's seafood industry. It accounts for 40% of the nation's seafood, as well as the fishing industry. With the "Dead Zone" predicting to be so large, fisherman are forced to travel farther from land, spending more time, gas, and money to get their catches. This is also added stress on top of the hurricanes and oil spill which have occurred in the Gulf. 

The "Dead Zone" was the size of Delaware during the summer of 2018. With all the rain that has fallen this Spring, it will just add to the size. Scientists predict it could be the size of Massachusetts (approx 7,829 sq. miles) through the summer. So what is being done about the "Dead Zone"?

The Nature Conservancy is working with farmers to promote more effective and more eco-friendly fertilizers. Also, working to reconnect rivers to their floodplains would help to mitigate floods and filter excess nutrients from water. Lastly, working with legalizing the RESTORE Act and Farm Bill to help protecting natural resources. 

Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone
'Dead Zone' in the Gulf of Mexico. Source mnn.com
Algae Bloom
Algae blooms decompose, and therefore, lower the oxygen in the water. Source: mnn.com
Dead Zone
Dead zones are also known as a 'Hypoxic' zone.