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U-M researcher and colleagues predict large 2009 Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone'
Date:6/18/2009

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---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
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Contact: Jim Erickson
ericksn@umich.edu
734-647-1842
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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