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US rush to produce corn-based ethanol will worsen 'dead zone' in Gulf of Mexico: UBC study
Date:3/10/2008

The U.S. governments rush to produce corn-based ethanol as a fuel alternative will worsen pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, increasing a Dead Zone that kills fish and aquatic life, according to University of British Columbia researcher Simon Donner.

In the first study of its kind, Donner and Chris Kucharik of the University of Wisconsin quantify the effect of biofuel production on the problem of nutrient pollution in a waterway. Their findings will appear in the March 10 edition of the Proceedings of the National Journal of Sciences.

The researchers looked at the estimated land and fertilizer required to meet proposed corn-based ethanol production goals. Recently, the U.S. Senate announced its energy policy aims of generating 36 billion gallons annually of ethanol by the year 2022, of which 15 billion gallons can be produced from corn starch. The corn-ethanol goal represents more than three times than triple the production in 2006.

This rush to expand corn production is a disaster for the Gulf of Mexico, says Donner, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Geography. The U.S. energy policy will make it virtually impossible to solve the problem of the Dead Zone.

Nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural fertilizer have been found to promote excess growth of algae in water bodies a problem thats common across North America and in many areas of the world.

In some cases, decomposition of algae consumes much of the oxygen in the water. Fertilizer applied to cornfields in the central U.S. including states such as Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin is the primary source of nitrogen pollution in the Mississippi River system, which drains into the Gulf of Mexico.

Each summer, the export of nitrogen creates a large Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, a region of oxygen-deprived waters that are unable to support aquatic life. In recent years, it has reached over 20,000 km2 in size, which is equivalent to the area
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Contact: Lorraine Chan
lorraine.chan@ubc.ca
604-822-3213
University of British Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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