Scientists with Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium expect the dead zone forming in the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana coastline to be the largest since measurements began in the 1980’s. The dead zone is an area of oxygen-deprived ocean water that forms annually as a result of runoff from the Mississippi River.
Runoff containing nutrient rich fertilizer from midwest farming efforts creates algae blooms that consume all of the available oxygen in the region. While some marine life can swim out of the dead zone, others that are confined to the sea floor such as starfish die as a result of the oxygen deprivation.
Scientists are attributing the increase in the size of the zone to the widespread growth of corn crops to meet ethanol demands. Corn crops require more fertilizer per acre than other crops, leading to more fertilizer being contained in the river runoff.
Demand for biofuels such as ethanol has risen as the price of oil has skyrocketed and pressure to find alternative and renewable fuel sources has escalated.
The resultant dead zone is an example of implications that must be considered when contemplating any alternative source in the move away from a carbon-based energy society.
- Agriculture blamed as Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” grows – St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Jun 10, 2008)
- Despite promises to fix it, the Gulf’s dead zone is growing – New Orleans Times-Picayune (Jun 9, 2007)
- Gulf of Mexico – Texas A&M Phytoplankton Dynamics Laboratory
- Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON)