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Average sized 'dead zone' predicted for Gulf of Mexico

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Staff writer ▼ | June 17, 2016
Scientists forecast that this year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone will be approximately 5,898 square miles, the same range as it has averaged over the last several years.
Gulf of Mexico
Ecology   Important commercial and recreational fisheries
The dead zone is an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and marine life.

The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico affects nationally important commercial and recreational fisheries. Hypoxic zones or "dead zones" are caused by high levels of nutrients, primarily from activities such as industrialized agriculture and inadequate wastewater treatment.

The low oxygen levels cannot support most marine life and habitats in near-bottom waters.

Organisms that can flee the dead zones leave the area, while others which cannot leave are stressed or die of suffocation. Reducing nutrients flowing to the Gulf would help the situation since, under normal conditions, this area contains a diversity of marine life, critical habitats, and a number of key fisheries.

"Dead zones are a real threat to Gulf fisheries and the communities that rely on them," said Russell Callender, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service.

"We'll continue to work with our partners to advance the science to reduce that threat. One way we're doing that is by using new tools and resources, like better predictive models, to provide better information to communities and businesses."

This year marks the second year that a four-model forecast has been used. The four individual model predictions ranged from 5,204 to 6,823 square miles, and had a collective predictive interval of 3,200 to 8,597 square miles.

The forecast assumes typical weather conditions, and the actual dead zone could be disrupted by hurricanes or tropical storms.

Data from these four models are used to determine and meet the nutrient reduction targets set by the interagency Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force.