Flooding creates largest Gulf dead zone

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The Gulf of Mexico's hypoxic zone is predicted to be the largest ever recorded because of extreme flooding of the Mississippi River this spring, according to an annual forecast by a team of NOAA-supported scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Louisiana State University and the University of Michigan.

Scientists are predicting that the area could measure between 8,500 and 9,421 square miles, or an area roughly the size of New Hampshire. If it reaches those levels it will be the largest since mapping of the Gulf’s “dead zone” began in 1985.

The largest hypoxic zone measured to date occurred in 2002 and encompassed more than 8,400 square miles.

Hypoxia is caused by excessive nutrient pollution, often from human activities such as agriculture that results in too little oxygen to support most marine life in bottom and near-bottom water.

The hypoxic zone off the coast of Louisiana and Texas forms each summer and threatens valuable commercial and recreational Gulf fisheries. In 2009, the dockside value of commercial fisheries in the Gulf was $629 million. Nearly 3 million recreational fishers further contributed more than $1 billion to the Gulf’s economy, taking 22 million fishing trips.

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