Gulf’s ‘dead zone’ forecast to be smaller than average, but still twice reduction goal

Jun 6, 2023, 12:21 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The oxygen-depleted “dead zone” that forms each year in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana and Texas is forecast to cover about 4,155 square miles (10,761 square kilometers) this year.

That’s about 1,200 square miles (3,107 square kilometers) smaller than the average during the 36-year history of dead zone measurements in the Gulf, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday, but still more than twice as large as the long-term hypoxia-reduction goal set by a federal-state task force.

This year’s forecast would be about 1,000 square miles (2,589 square kilometers) larger than what was actually measured last year.

Scientists from Louisiana State University, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, NOAA and other universities will travel along the coasts of Louisiana and Texas during the last week of July and first week of August to see if the estimate holds up.

But LSU marine biologist Nancy Rabalais, who has overseen the dead zone mapping cruises since they began in 1985, said there’s a good chance the estimate could be high for a second straight year. The reason: Less rainfall in the Midwest is expected to again keep the flow of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers’ freshwater below normal levels well into the summer, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.

And while less river water means less nutrients that cause the dead zone, the low river flows are also likely to disrupt the process that causes the low-oxygen conditions.

The Gulf dead zone is largely created by urban and agricultural runoff and discharges of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Mississippi River, which drains 41% of the continental United States. In the Gulf, the nutrients feed an overgrowth of algae, which die and sink to the bottom, using up oxygen from the ocean floor as they decompose. Fish, shrimp and crabs can swim away. Animals that are slower or fixed to the bottom cannot.

But Rabalais said the smaller flow of freshwater this year means there’s a good chance more oxygen will mix from the atmosphere through the thinner freshwater layer into the lower, saltier water, meaning less hypoxia.

This is the sixth year NOAA has produced its own dead zone forecast, using models jointly developed by the agency and by researchers at LSU, University of Michigan, the College of William and Mary’s Virginia Institute of Marine Science, North Carolina State University and Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada.

If this year’s estimate is accurate, the dead zone would still be more than two times bigger than a goal set by a task force of federal agencies and states along the river to reduce its size to a five-year average of no more than 1,900 square miles (4.920 square kilometers) by 2035.

In 2001, the task force called for that goal to be met by 2015. But by 2016, it was clear that efforts to get Midwest farmers to reduce their fertilizer use was not working, and the task force pushed the goal date back to 2035. It also added a new goal to reduce the amount of phosphorus and nitrates in the river by 20% by 2025.

“The action plan to reduce the size of the Gulf of Mexico dead zone has been in place for over two decades, but each year the size of the dead zone varies around the long-term average (of 5,364 square miles). That average is almost three times the goal set in 2001,” said Don Scavia, a University of Michigan professor of environment and sustainability who leads one of several research teams partnering with the federal government on the annual forecast.

But Scavia said reductions in nutrients identified by United States Geological Survey in May also don’t represent long-term reductions in total nutrients carried by the river year-round, as called for in the task force goals. And critics of the present voluntary system of projects aimed at reducing fertilizer use argue that only a move to set federal limits on nutrients in runoff from farmland will result in long-term reductions in the Mississippi River.

Still, federal officials remain hopeful that present efforts to install nutrient-reduction projects in the Midwest and elsewhere along the river will succeed, especially with recent funding made available by Congress.

National News

Associated Press

Amazon is investing up to $4 billion in AI startup Anthropic in growing tech battle

Amazon is investing up to $4 billion in Anthropic and taking a minority stake in the artificial intelligence startup, the two companies said Monday. The investment underscores how Big Tech companies are pouring money into AI as they race to capitalize on the opportunities that the latest generation of the technology is set to fuel. […]

22 minutes ago

FILE - A passenger disembarks from Amtrak's Sunset Limited at its final stop in New Orleans, Nov. 2...

Associated Press

Biden administration announces $1.4 billion to improve rail safety and boost capacity in 35 states

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Monday that it has awarded more than $1.4 billion to projects that improve railway safety and boost capacity, with much of the money coming from the 2021 infrastructure law. “These projects will make American rail safer, more reliable, and more resilient, delivering tangible benefits to dozens of communities […]

2 hours ago

FILE - Sweat covers the face of Juan Carlos Biseno after dancing to music from his headphones as af...

Associated Press

After summer’s extreme weather, more Americans see climate change as a culprit, AP-NORC poll shows

Kathleen Maxwell has lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years, but this summer was the first time she felt fear, as daily high temperatures soared to 110 degrees or hotter and kept it up for a record-shattering 31 consecutive days. “It’s always been really hot here, but nothing like this past summer,” said Maxwell, […]

4 hours ago

Hudson, 7, left, Callahan, 13, middle, and Keegan Pruente, 10, right, stand outside their school on...

Associated Press

More schools are adopting 4-day weeks. For parents, the challenge is day 5

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — It’s a Monday in September, but with schools closed, the three children in the Pruente household have nowhere to be. Callahan, 13, contorts herself into a backbend as 7-year-old Hudson fiddles with a balloon and 10-year-old Keegan plays the piano. Like a growing number of students around the U.S, the Pruente […]

6 hours ago

FILE - Sydney Carney walks through her home, which was destroyed by a wildfire on Aug. 11, 2023, in...

Associated Press

Residents prepare to return to sites of homes demolished in Lahaina wildfire 7 weeks ago

HONOLULU (AP) — From just outside the burn zone in Lahaina, Jes Claydon can see the ruins of the rental home where she lived for 13 years and raised three children. Little remains recognizable beyond the jars of sea glass that stood outside the front door. On Monday, officials are expected to begin lifting restrictions […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Kidnapped teen rescued from Southern California motel room after 4 days of being held hostage

SANTA MARIA, Calif. (AP) — Authorities rescued a 17-year-old boy in Southern California after he was kidnapped and held hostage for four days by captors who threatened to harm him if his family did not pay a $500,000 ransom. The teen was rescued Friday after law enforcement tracked him and his three kidnappers to a […]

11 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

Gulf’s ‘dead zone’ forecast to be smaller than average, but still twice reduction goal