Scientists Warn: Largest Ocean ‘Dead Zone’ in History

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The largest ‘dead zone’ ever recorded is headed for the Gulf of Mexico this summer, as high levels of pollution runoff, elevated by Midwestern floods, seep into the ocean.

The dead area could grow to as much as 8,500 square miles of toxic deep ocean water—killing all marine life in its path—warn National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration scientists.

The findings signal a warning not only about the Gulf of Mexico, but about the many dead zones that develop each year across the world’s oceans.

Dead zones emerge deep beneath the marine surface when pollution runoff from farms seeps into the ocean, releasing nitrogen that feeds large algae growths.

When areas become over-grown with algae because of excess nitrogen, they become depleted of oxygen and thus toxic to marine life, choking and killing fish in a process scientists call ‘hypoxia.’

“Dead zones are becoming more common worldwide in areas where coastal waters are swamped with nutrients, particularly nitrogen, from sewage or fertilizer,” NOAA scientists explain.

This year’s runoff is especially bad, because heavy rains and floods this spring are flushing Midwestern farm pollutants into the ocean.

The Gulf of Mexico dead zone is expected to swell far beyond its usual 18,000 kilometers, alarming scientists.

Unregulated large-scale farming is to blame for the vast pollutants the rain washes into the ocean.Time Magazine reports:

The major factor driving the size of the dead zone—beyond changing flooding patterns—is the use and overuse of fertilizers in America’s rich Midwestern corn belt. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 153,000 metric tons of nutrients flowed down the swollen Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers during May—a 16% increase over the nutrient load average seen during the past 34 years.

As Bloomberg points out, ethanol production carries much of the blame:

The culprits behind the dead zone are many, but one deserves special attention: corn. Unlike, say, soybeans, which can grow without fertilizer, corn can’t grow without it. It takes 195 pounds of fertilizer to grow an acre of corn.

And the U.S. grows a lot of corn — more than any other country. What’s more, 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop is devoted to making ethanol, which fuel companies must blend with gasoline under a congressional mandate. The Gulf dead zone is yet another reason for Congress to kill that mandate.

Green groups charge that the lack of state and federal regulations of big agribusiness is responsible for the toxic zones choking ocean life. State and federal initiatives are too reliant on farmers’ voluntary self-regulation and come nowhere near to meeting nitrogen reduction goals.

In May, native and indigenous communities walked over 1,700 miles along the Mississippi calling for an immediate halt to the flow of pollutants into the river.

 Sarah Lazare is a staff writer with Common Dreams

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  • Ethanol does much more harm then good but until the sheeple demand an end to it it’s a very powerful lobby..

    • Barn Cat

      It also lowers the amount of available food and makes food more expensive. More people will starve because of it and the globalists like that.

  • javelin

    These “dead zones” are a growing problem in the Chesapeake Bay area.

    When the government ( always stupid govt ideas isn’t it?)…anyhow, when the government started subsidizing and paying farmers to grow high nitrogen corn products for ethanol instead of tobacco or food–well like most govt projects, they failed to think it through.

    The run-off from all of these ethanol corn farms has added tons of nitrogen in the Bay. The result is mammoth areas of algae bloom which blocks the sunlight from reaching the Bay floor and keeping natural grasses from growing. The algae sucks O2 from the water but at the same time kills off the underwater vegetation that adds O2 to the water.

    The result?…Dead Zones of de-oxygenated water with no grass, no crabs, fish, oysters, mussels etc etc…and at times with quick algae blooms they even cause “red tides” which kill off thousands/millions of fish and crabs….

    What irony—to “protect the environment” by not drilling for oil in mud plains in Alaska ..we instead create greater death and environmental impact by growing sythetic gas from corn…truly ironic ( but you’ll never hear this in the news.)

    • cire512

      what makes you think this wasn’t planned?!

    • Barn Cat

      No, algae take CO2 from the water and produces oxygen.

      • Jean

        Then why do the marine life forms die of Hypoxia, lack of oxygen?

    • Jean

      And Ethanol eats parts of the engine (seals, gaskets, carburetor if you have one), and breaks down / is unstable, and – kicker – it takes MORE gas to make Ethanol than you get back in energy! IE, 1.5 gallons of gas burned to make ethanol yields ONE GALLON OF ETHANOL.

      As others note: This is PLANNED. We are intended to be reduced back into serfdom.

  • John

    Don’t forget the BP oil spills and Japanese nuclear plant explosions.

  • Barn Cat

    It’s interesting but not that important given that an economic collapse is coming.