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Earth Science

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

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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  • So? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @09:14PM (#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.

  • Re: So? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BaronM ( 122102 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @09:40PM (#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.

  • Re:So? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by unimacs ( 597299 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @10:27PM (#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.
  • by ArmoredDragon ( 3450605 ) on Wednesday August 06, 2014 @11:31PM (#47619847)

    Don't forget: We also hate the poor and minorities too. We want to see them all die so that there is nothing left in this universe but a few rich white men with no earth (because as you yourself state, we hate that too.)

    (Disclaimer: I'm not a Republican, but I typically get lumped with them because most people can't see beyond simple left and right.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 07, 2014 @01:04AM (#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.

  • Re: So? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 07, 2014 @03:48PM (#47625517)
    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 farming methods and herbicide resistant crops that the slashdot crowd likes to get worked up about: to save money by reducing fuel use while also retaining top soil.

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