Heavy June rains, high July nutrient runoff levels likely cause for increased size
Scientists have found this year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone — an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and marine life — is, at 6,474 square miles, above average in size and larger than forecast by NOAA in June. The larger than expected forecast was caused by heavy June rains throughout the Mississippi River watershed.
The measured size this year — an area about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined — is larger than the 5,052 square miles measured last year, indicating that nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed are continuing to affect the nation's coastal resources and habitats in the Gulf. The size is larger than the Gulf of Mexico / Mississippi River Watershed Nutrient Task Force (Hypoxia Task Force) target of 1,900 square miles.
"Dead zones," also called hypoxia areas, are caused by nutrient runoff from agricultural and other human activities in the watershed and are highly affected by river discharge and nitrogen loads. These nutrients stimulate an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes, and consumes the oxygen needed to support life in the Gulf. Dead zones are a major water quality issue with an estimated total of more than 550 occurring annually worldwide. The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is the second largest human-caused hypoxic area in the world.
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