A report released this week by the University of Michigan and Louisiana State University predicts that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico could grow to as much as 8,561 square miles, an area the size of New Jersey. The forecast was created using computer models based on nutrient runoff data from rivers and streams provided by the US Geological Survey. Spring floods in the Midwest are sending extra nitrogen and phosphorus into the gulf, contributing to the creation of oxygen-deprived areas of water.
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What’s the Big Idea?
According to forecast contributor and University of Michigan aquatic ecologist Donald Scavia, animals that live on the gulf floor, such as worms and clams, will die due to a lack of oxygen in the water, and some of the fish that eat them will be affected as well. He also says climate models predicting larger and more intense storms could lead to more severe floods like those happening this year, along with more nutrient runoff washing down into the gulf. Ultimately, he says dead zones “really have the potential to devastate the fishing industry…The solution is really to be more aggressive in dealing with pollution coming from agriculture.”