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Earth Science

Man-Made "Dead Zone" In Gulf of Mexico the Size of Connecticut 184

Posted by samzenpus
from the we're-doomed dept.
Taco Cowboy writes Somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico there is a man-made "Dead Zone" the size of the State of Connecticut. Inside that "Dead Zone" the water contains no oxygen, or too little to support normal marine life, especially the bottom dwelling fish and shrimps. The "Dead Zone" measures about 5,000 square miles (13,000 square kilometers) [and] is caused by excess nutrient runoff from farms along the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf. The excess nutrients feed algae growth, which consumes oxygen when it works its way to the Gulf bottom. The Gulf dead zone, which fluctuates in size but measured 5,052 square miles this summer, is exceeded only by a similar zone in the Baltic Sea around Finland. The number of dead zones worldwide currently totals more than 550 and has been increasing for decades.
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Man-Made "Dead Zone" In Gulf of Mexico the Size of Connecticut

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It is a life opportunity area. Give it a chance.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @08:25PM (#47619171) Journal

      It is a life opportunity area. Give it a chance.

      That's 'Photosynthetic Entrepreneurship Incubator', please... A carefully constructed program of Nitrogen Incentives has (quite literally) grown trillions of Green Jobs in the dynamic and competitive Algae sector. Truly an achievement to be proud of.

      Yes, some people, driven by the politics of envy, allege that the disruption of legacy 'oxygen breathing' business models is a problem rather than a sign of progress; but that sick desire to prop up uncompetitive organisms with the dead hand of state wealth redistribution has no place in a free society!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ColdWetDog (752185)

        Hurrumph. A redox Nazi.

      • by powerlord (28156)

        You joke, but I know there's been lots of talk about releasing excess Carbon into the environment. (see: Melting Icecaps, Rising Waters, Cats and Dogs Living Together, etc.)

        I wonder if these blooms aren't a counterpoint to something like that (a theoretical carbon sink?).

        • There have been a number of proposals to do carbon sequestration with algae or plankton. I think they often revolve around 'fertilizing' nutrient-poor; but deep, bits of ocean further out, in order to increase the likely duration of the biomass' stay on the bottom of the ocean and to avoid creating oxygen depleted areas in waters with more robust seabed ecology and proximity to people, fisheries, and so on.

          I don't know how viable the proposals are; but the notion has come up.
    • buncha guys found out dead zone. who's gonna tell da Boss? we could both be sleepin wit da fishes...

  • So? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @08:14PM (#47619097)

    This has been going on for a long time. It's due to drainage of basically the Great Plains out into the Gulf. Lots of fixed nitrogen from fertilizers in that these days. That nitrogen stimulates a variety of organisms that also use oxygen. Which there really isn't all that much of in water.

    The only way you are going to stop it is to find a different method of raising food for the world. Hint: current organic methods doesn't do it - too labor intensive and yields suffer.

    Or you could have less people.

    • Aside from the potential ecosystem impact, there is the unhelpful issue that 'fish and shrimps' are (in areas where populations remain) a fairly popular source of more-or-less inoffensive protein. Even if you are purely interested in maximizing food production, there is a direct trade-off, though the ratio can differ by location and implementation, between maximizing farm yields at the expense of marine environments or curbing fertilization at the expense of farm yields. The oceans do serve other purposes;
    • Re: So? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BaronM (122102) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @08:40PM (#47619255)

      As neither a farmer nor a marine biologist, I should probably shut up, but hey, this is Slashdot!

      I have to wonder how much use of synthetic fertilizer could be reduced by systematic crop rotation between corn and legumes to fix nitrogen naturally rather than dumping on the land? I suppose the price would probably be yields down/food prices up, but food is historically cheap at the moment.

      • Wrong, food is recently expensive. No longer are every other peon following a horse or mule. Now some have time for intellectual pursuits. Like Dilbert. Nowadays we use store bought machineries and oil. Way more expensive then feeding the children of the help, and letting them create the machines .
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        How much would fertilizer use be reduced by crop rotation? None. Despite what the organic food propagandists tell you, modern farmers already practice crop rotation. They also send in soil samples to the local ag extension agent or university to have it analyzed so they know what needs to be applied for that season's crop. Why? Because "dumping" fertilizer willy-nilly on their fields is expensive and the profit margins are too low to operate that inefficiently. That is also why many use no-till farmin
    • Another thing we could is invest 100 billion dollars into African agriculture. You could grow a huge amount of food in Africa, it's just the initial investment that's the problem, building roads, transferring farming gear, etc..

      • Re:So? (Score:5, Funny)

        by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @11:01PM (#47619957)

        Great idea! But we would probably need more labor for this to work. To soak up the unemployed pool in the US, we could send them to Africa in an ecologically sound fleet of wind-powered ships built from natural nonmetallic materials.

      • Meh. I don't need food. My nerd rage sustains me.

      • Re:So? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 07, 2014 @01:07AM (#47620455)

        Another thing we could is invest 100 billion dollars into African agriculture. You could grow a huge amount of food in Africa,
        it's just the initial investment that's the problem, building roads, transferring farming gear, etc..

        That "etc" being "killing the people who then show up claiming the land is theirs, and you have one minute to leave or die."

        White people had great farms in Africa. Then the national governments decided it wasn't fair that white people owned large farms. So they either killed or ran off the colonialist oppressors, and gave the land to proper black Africans. Who proceeded to let the productive farms turn to wastelands because they have no idea how to work together, much less actually farm year after year.

        (Posting AC just because I don't need the grief.)

        • Isn't it surprising that the whites did not teach the blacks how to properly run a farm?
          Yeah, yeah, it is the blacks fault ...
          Same in kambodsha after the 'revolution' ... city people got relocated to farm land to work the farms ... they had no clue how to farm ... how many millions died?
          Sorry, this is not a black versus white issue.
          And it is rather disappointing to hear such bullshit from an american.
          What year after revolution do you have in the US? Wasn't it 1776? So you are in the year 250 AFTER THE REVOL

      • by Talderas (1212466)

        The food problem in Africa is mostly a problem of distribution with corrupt warlords and dictators hording for themselves and leaving the plebs very little. If you don't address or fix that problem, then investing $100bn isn't going to do much good.

    • Re:So? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by unimacs (597299) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @09:27PM (#47619527)
      The problem isn't just fertilizers, it's also that runoff is fast-tracked into lakes, streams, and rivers that lead to the Gulf. If instead we restored some wetlands and allowed the rivers to move beyond their banks now and then rather than just making the banks taller, you wouldn't have so much water flowing into the Gulf at such a furious pace dragging a ton of silt with it. It would have time to be filtered naturally, replenish aquifers, and grow plants instead of it all ending up in the ocean.
    • Re:So? (Score:4, Informative)

      by ehynes (617617) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @09:45PM (#47619601) Homepage
      Or we could simply eat less meat [phys.org] since much of the corn and soybeans grown in the midwest are just fed to animals.
      • by geekoid (135745)

        That would be nice..
        I'd like t see a big push for less meat consumption. Really don't need more the 6oz a day.

      • Re:So? (Score:4, Informative)

        by danbert8 (1024253) on Thursday August 07, 2014 @07:04AM (#47621563)

        Or we could ditch ethanol for fuels... Or stop paying farmers to go crops that there isn't demand for.

      • Sure, that's one possibility, it just won't actually happen. The correct response is to impose a nitrogen waste runoff tax to correct the current externalized cost then let the market sort it out.
    • OR we could just develop methods of farming with less runoff.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Or you could stop throwing food away. Growing food is not the issue, organic, or better yet permaculture will work. But distrobution, profit, storage and finally wastefullness all bite you in the ass.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 07, 2014 @12:04AM (#47620197)

      It has been known for a long time now that this has *nothing* to do with nitrogen. Nitrogen is never the limiting factor for algae growth. Neither is potassium. So, you have one major fertilizer to guess - yes, it is phosphorus.

      Phosphorus runoff is *the* reason for dead-zones and algae blooms. Stop phosphorus runoff, and you fix one of the major problems we have today that not only affects The Gulf, but many of the sweet water lakes too.

      The only way you are going to stop it is to find a different method of raising food for the world. Hint: current organic methods doesn't do it - too labor intensive and yields suffer.

      Wrong on both points.

      1. You do not have to stop using fertilizer if you prevent runoff from getting into rivers and lakes in sufficient quantities to cause problems. This means less ditches, more wetlands, and stop of draining wetlands to get substandard farmland.

      2. If people had nothing but organic farming, we would certainly not run out of food. Even if yields were 50% lower (and they would not be), there would still be plenty of plant food to eat. Maybe meat would be more expensive and people would start only eating meat once a week, like 100+ years ago, but there certainly would be enough food to go around.

      Secondly, even 100% pure organic farming using natural fertilizer does not solve the problem of phosphorus runoff.

      • by N1AK (864906)

        Maybe meat would be more expensive

        Meat would be significantly more expensive, when you blur the lines on something that definitive by saying it "maybe" it diminishes the rest of your point. That's not to say meat shouldn't be considerably more expensive.

      • by zmooc (33175)

        Stop phosphorus runoff

        Peak phosphorus is expected by 2030. Total depletion a few decades later. This problem will solve itself and while doing so it will probably solve the overpopulation problem as well;-)

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        It has been known for a long time now that this has *nothing* to do with nitrogen. Nitrogen is never the limiting factor for algae growth. Neither is potassium. So, you have one major fertilizer to guess - yes, it is phosphorus.

        Phosphorus runoff is *the* reason for dead-zones and algae blooms. Stop phosphorus runoff, and you fix one of the major problems we have today that not only affects The Gulf, but many of the sweet water lakes too.

        On a related note, you may notice that laundry detergent doesn't clean

        • Especially since in a lot of places, the sewage runs straight out into the ocean without treatment.
          Only in third world countries. A shame that you count yours belonging to them!

      • by Dishevel (1105119)
        So. Lets destroy New Orleans. That will fix it.
    • This has been going on for a long time. It's due to drainage of basically the Great Plains out into the Gulf. Lots of fixed nitrogen from fertilizers in that these days. That nitrogen stimulates a variety of organisms that also use oxygen. Which there really isn't all that much of in water.

      The only way you are going to stop it is to find a different method of raising food for the world. Hint: current organic methods doesn't do it - too labor intensive and yields suffer.

      Or you could have less people.

      Don't worry, in ~20 years the aquifer will run dry and the entire Great Plains will become the new Dust Bowl. Problem solved.

      (Except for finding something to eat. Maybe there will be enough shrimp for breakfast).

    • too labor intensive and yields suffer.

      I thought we were going to need a lot of new jobs in our post-work society? Farming is more interesting and productive than a lot of work I see people forced to accept these days. Or are you going to tell me that because things will be more expensive we'll all lose out? One of those tides that doesn't lift the big boats so can't lift any small ones, maybe?

      • by volmtech (769154)
        So I can expect to see you and your family out in the field picking up potatoes next harvest season? And don't forget pulling all those weeds because herbicides are banned. I have done those jobs and I didn't find either one particularly interesting. Now churning through the field pulling a four row harvester with a 250 horsepower John Deere is fun and cruising along listening to Rush Limbaugh while guiding a 60 ft wide sprayer is pure joy.
        • When I was a boy we grew potatoes and I pulled them up for our dinner, no herbicides were required. It was reasonably hard work and like all children I despised it as it was "my job". So there is one part of a possible solution, have families growing their own food in an environmentally friendly way, a much better use of garden space than acres of grass or exotic plant follies. I also listen to a lot of stories of people picking fruit in the old days and they generally say it was a lot of fun and quite a
          • by volmtech (769154)
            It's always about money. It is possible to grow your own food but getting money for other needs and a few luxuries is difficult. Slavery was used because free people were too expensive to hire. I worked at a produce packing facility and many workers there spoke fondly about working the harvest season up the East coast. At this moment my daughter's sister in law and her husband are in Delaware doing migrant work. It is hard on children, their six year old son is being driving back to Florida with other famil
    • Is it the nitrogen or the phosphorus? I think phosphorus is the big problem.

      Here in the Chicago area, the water reclamation district has started using a new process to remove phosphorus from the sewage. Aside from the up front cost, its generating millions of dollars of valuable fertilizer. The phosphorus compound that's removed has the benefit of slow release and not water soluble but can be absorbed by roots. Farmers like it because they fertilizer lasts longer and doesn't run off right away.

      I think t
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Hint: current organic methods doesn't do it - too labor intensive and yields suffer.

      Labor-intensive, yes. That's true. Yields suffer? That's an ignorant statement at best. There are numerous intensive cultivation methods which can produce dramatically more food than so-called "green revolution" farming. Zero-tilth agriculture using guilds, vertical agriculture... the idea that we need factory farming of monocultures to feed the world is an absurdist myth propagated by an industry which would like to sell petroleum-based fertilizers which deplete soil of all living constituents. It's hydrop

    • The only way you are going to stop it is to find a different method of raising food for the world. Hint: current organic methods doesn't do it - too labor intensive and yields suffer.

      Well, you could also fix it by stopping (or treating) the runoff to eliminate the excess nitrogen before it gets to the ocean.

      Keep in mind that all the nitrogen that's growing algae in the Gulf isn't doing what it's supposed to do, which is to grow crops in the midwest. It's a symptom of inefficiency, and there should be a busi

    • Organic growing of food works just fine in Europe.
      I really wonder what the problem in the US is. You have a similar population and 10 - 15 times the space.
      Likely the reality distortion fields affect physics, chemistry and biology in your part of the world.
      Oh, yes, you suffer from the draught, brought by aliens. Sorry ... forgot about that.
      Angel leans back and enjoys his organic salad ...

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @08:17PM (#47619111)
    Of course there's anthropogenic change to the environment.

    We have gone forth and multiplied,

    to the great detriment of our bluegreen, slightly elliptical, biosphere.

    • by Chas (5144)

      Well, if we're so detrimental, I accept your volunteering to off yourself to make a dent in the problem! ;-)

      • A gentleman, a scholar, and a plagiarist all rolled into one.

        Like a Ronco product.

        • by Chas (5144)

          Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.
          -- Pablo Picasso

          • by geekoid (135745)

            Pablo Picasso said no such thing.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        That doesn't work, that removes one and changes nothing. we have to work from within the system to change the system.

    • Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings, is that you?

  • How big is it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by prisoner-of-enigma (535770) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @08:19PM (#47619125) Homepage

    To put this in perspective, 5,000 sq. mi. is a square about 71 miles on a side. Compare this to the total area of the Gulf (615,000 sq. mi) and you'll see this "dead zone" occupies just 0.8% of the Gulf. Is this something that needs addressing? Absolutely. But it's not some horrific cauldron of death like the headline tries to make it out to be.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      But it's not some horrific cauldron of death like the headline tries to make it out to be.

      Yes it is.........in a 5000 sq/mi area.

    • by turp182 (1020263)

      It is a "cauldron of death" for species that cannot escape (shellfish primarily, so selfish about their oxygen and location).

      I wonder if population studies have been done, how does the ecosystem recover after the algae bloom? I haven't checked of course.

      This isn't the largest death zone ever, maybe farming practices are improving with regards to runoff. It is certainly wasteful.

      • The Mariana Trench is also a "cauldron of death" due to its similar lack of oxygen, but we don't talk about it in that way because the species that can't survive there simply don't live there to begin with. It sounds like the same would be true here, so I'm unclear why the shellfish would need to be escaping at all. Are the algae blooms seasonal? Because, if not, and this is a permanent dead zone, any life that was in it is long gone, and you don't need to worry about new life trying to escape it, because i

        • Shellfish start out free-floating and only attach themselves to the seafloor when they become adults. Many of them certainly drift into the dead zone from elsewhere.

      • by fractoid (1076465)

        I wonder if population studies have been done, how does the ecosystem recover after the algae bloom?

        I haven't checked either, but I'd guess that the water will gradually absorb oxygen from the air until it reaches a livable level, at which point the surrounding ocean ecosystem will recolonize it.

  • by leftie (667677) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @08:25PM (#47619169)

    Damn you, Finns.

  • Everything is bigger in Texas.
    Apparently near it, too.
  • Only the size of Connecticut? So, nothing to worry about?
  • What a coincidence; there's a brain-dead zone in Connecticut, the size of Connecticut.
  • " Inside that "Dead Zone" the water contain no oxygen"

    Step 1. Find Connecticut-sized container
    Step 2. Something something
    Step 3. Profit.
  • We already know about it; it's called Congress.

  • So let's go ultra worse case and say that all 550 "dead zones" (I don't know why we're using quotes here, but everyone else is so...) are as bad as the Mississippi dead zone, with a little rounding let's say that it's 5000/square miles per dead zone, that's 550*5000/square miles = 2500000. Now according to Wikipedia ...

    That makes our worse case 2500000 / 139000000 = 0.0179856115107914 or 0.17% of the worlds ocea

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That kind of percentage is a bit misleading. The awkward bit about dead zones is that they occur along the coast in exactly the kind of spots that would otherwise be good for supporting marine life ( a lot of open ocean tends to be nutrient-depleted and middling lifeless... coastal areas have a lot more going for them; the stuff washed out of rivers is a great food source normally).

    • by Cenan (1892902)

      We use the quotes because the zones aren't actually dead, they're just full of undesirable life (algae).

    • by N1AK (864906)

      or 0.17% of the worlds oceans.

      It's a bit like saying who cares if 0.2% of the worlds land area was heavily irradiated when you don't know whether that 0.2% is in a desert where only a couple of camels would notice, or the locations of the 25 largest cities in the world leading to hundreds of millions dead and displaced.

  • ...not to the shrimpers and other commercial fishermen of the Gulf. Sad and alarming, and all, but not news.
  • It isn't a dead zone.

    Because algae is 'life'. So is all the stuff that feeds off the algae.

    There's just nothing we can fish in to extinction.

  • Certainly sounds like there is plenty of Algae there, which certainly isn't dead...

    A more accurate description might be "Algae Zone" perhaps.

  • That's the staging point that the lizard people will use to invade the US.
  • Let's oxygenate the water by building floating roombas that circulate air into the water, like tiny fountains.

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