Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researchers Predict Large 2009 Gulf of Mexico 'Dead Zone' Chesapeake Bay's Oxygen-starved Zone Likely to Shrink

22.06.2009
University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia and his colleagues say this year's Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" could be one of the largest on record, continuing a decades-long trend that threatens the health of a half-billion-dollar fishery.

University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia and his colleagues say this year's Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" could be one of the largest on record, continuing a decades-long trend that threatens the health of a half-billion-dollar fishery.

The scientists' latest forecast, released today, calls for a Gulf dead zone of between 7,450 and 8,456 square miles---an area about the size of New Jersey.

Most likely, this summer's Gulf dead zone will blanket about 7,980 square miles, roughly the same size as last year's zone, Scavia said. That would put the years 2009, 2008 and 2001 in a virtual tie for second place on the list of the largest Gulf dead zones.

It would also mean that the five largest Gulf dead zones on record have occurred since 2001. The biggest of these oxygen-starved, or hypoxic, regions developed in 2002 and measured 8,484 square miles.

"The growth of these dead zones is an ecological time bomb," said Scavia, a professor at the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment and director of the U-M Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute.

"Without determined local, regional and national efforts to control them, we are putting major fisheries at risk," said Scavia, who also produces annual dead-zone forecasts for the Chesapeake Bay.

The Gulf dead zone forms each spring and summer off the Louisiana and Texas coast when oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters.

The Gulf hypoxia research team is supported by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research and includes scientists from Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

The forecast for a large 2009 Gulf hypoxic zone is based on above-normal flows in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers this spring, which delivered large amounts of the nutrient nitrogen. In April and May, flows in the two rivers were 11 percent above average.

Additional flooding of the Mississippi since May could result in a dead zone that exceeds the upper limit of the forecast, the scientists said.

"The high water-volume flows, coupled with nearly triple the nitrogen concentrations in these rivers over the past 50 years from human activities, has led to a dramatic increase in the size of the dead zone," said Gene Turner, a lead forecast modeler at Louisiana State University.

Northeast of the Gulf, low water flows into the Chesapeake Bay shaped Scavia's 2009 forecast for that hypoxia zone.

The Bay's oxygen-starved zone is expected to shrink to between 0.7 and 1.8 cubic miles, with a "most likely" volume of 1.2 cubic miles---the lowest level since 2001 and third-lowest on record. The drop is largely due to a regional dry spell that lasted from January through April, Scavia said. Continued high flows in June, beyond the period used for the forecasts, suggest the actual size may be near the higher end of the forecast range.

"While it's encouraging to see that this year's Chesapeake Bay forecast calls for a significant drop in the extent of the dead zone, we must keep in mind that the anticipated reduction is due mainly to decreased precipitation and water runoff into the Bay," he said.

"The predicted 2009 dead-zone decline does not result from cutbacks in the use of nitrogen, which remains one of the key drivers of hypoxia in the Bay."

Farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste---some of it from as far away as the Corn Belt---is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that cause the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.

Each year in late spring and summer, these nutrients make their way down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf, fueling explosive algae blooms there. When the algae die and sink, bottom-dwelling bacteria decompose the organic matter, consuming oxygen in the process. The result is an oxygen-starved region in bottom and near-bottom waters: the dead zone.

The same process occurs in the Chesapeake Bay, where nutrients in the Susquehanna River trigger the event. In both the Gulf and the Bay, fish, shrimp and crabs are forced to leave the hypoxic zone. Animals that cannot move perish.

The annual hypoxia forecasts helps coastal managers, policy makers, and the public better understand what causes dead zones. The models that generate the forecasts have been used to determine the nutrient-reduction targets required to reduce the size of the dead zone.

"As with weather forecasts, the Gulf forecast uses multiple models to predict the range of the expected size of the dead zone. The strong track record of these models reinforces our confidence in the link between excess nutrients from the Mississippi River and the dead zone," said Robert Magnien, director of NOAA's Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research.

U.S. Geological Survey data on spring river flow and nutrient concentrations inform the computer models that produce the hypoxia forecasts.

The official size of the 2009 hypoxic zone will be announced following a NOAA-supported monitoring survey led by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium on July 18-26. In addition, NOAA's Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program's (SEAMAP) is currently providing near real-time data on the hypoxic zone during a five-week summer fish survey in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Related links:

Don Scavia's hypoxia forecasts: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/scavia/hypoxia_forecasts

Hypoxia in the Northern Gulf of Mexico
(Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium): http://www.gulfhypoxia.net/
NOAA/NCCOS Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Research for Management: http://www.cop.noaa.gov/stressors/extremeevents/hab/features/hypoxiafs_report1206.html

Jim Erickson | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.umich.edu
http://www.noaa.gov

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Safeguarding sustainability through forest certification mapping
27.06.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht Dune ecosystem modelling
26.06.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>