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Earth Science

Oceans Suffocating as Huge Dead Zones Quadruple Since 1950, Scientists Warn (theguardian.com) 190

Ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950, scientists have warned, while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold. From a report: Most sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and current trends would lead to mass extinction in the long run, risking dire consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the sea. Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause of the large-scale deoxygenation, as warmer waters hold less oxygen. The coastal dead zones result from fertiliser and sewage running off the land and into the seas. The analysis, published in the journal Science, is the first comprehensive analysis of the areas and states: "Major extinction events in Earth's history have been associated with warm climates and oxygen-deficient oceans." Denise Breitburg, at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the US and who led the analysis, said: "Under the current trajectory that is where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path." "This is a problem we can solve," Breitburg said. "Halting climate change requires a global effort, but even local actions can help with nutrient-driven oxygen decline." She pointed to recoveries in Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Thames river in the UK, where better farm and sewage practices led to dead zones disappearing.

Oceans Suffocating as Huge Dead Zones Quadruple Since 1950, Scientists Warn

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Mankind alters his environment from the conditions that existed before our explosive population growth. There is no way the world could support 7 billion homo sapiens without side effects. Yawn.
    • Maybe you should consider the possibility that, in the medium to long term, there is no way the world could support 7.5 (yes, doesn't it change fast?) billion homo sapiens.

      The Overshoot Index linked to below states that the world as a whole could sustain, for the foreseeable future, about 4.3 billion people. The USA has a sustainable population of about 145 million - it is now more than 50% overpopulated, a remarkable achievement for a country that was sparsely and sustainably populated until less than 150

      • Re:Old news. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Thursday January 04, 2018 @03:28PM (#55864615)

        You are assuming a linear projection of something that is highly unlikely to scale linearly with either time or population growth. Even if you only look at current data, it is appears that we have already passed an inflection point (the second derivative is now negative).

        The major cause of "dead zones" is agricultural fertilizer run off. Fertilizer running off the land is inherently wasteful, so farmers already have a financial incentive to fix this problem ... and they are doing so. Modern "no-till" farming [wikipedia.org] can dramatically reduce run off. Data driven systems can also optimize fertilizer application with soil condition and weather. In the future, robotic application of fertilizer directly to either foliage or crop root zones will dramatically reduce fertilizer volume by delivering the nutrients only to the crop and not to weeds and bare soil.

        The solution to "dead zones" is already in the pipeline, and within a decade the zones will be in decline.

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          But :" Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause of the large-scale deoxygenation", because CLIMATE CHANGE IS THE CAUSE OF EVERYTHING BAD!!! IT HAS TO EXIST!!!! GIVE ME GRANT MONEY!

        • You're remarkably uninformed.

          As someone who lives in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, I can tell you firsthand that nitrogen runoff is a major problem. Why? Chicken shit.

          The Eastern Shore of MD- both East and West sides of the Bay- is poultry central. What do poultry farmers do with chicken shit? They throw it on the ground. Well, their crops, if they happen to do any crop farming, but even in that case much ultimately winds up in the Bay.

          The poultry lobby is very strong here (Perdue, Tyson, etc. etc.) so

          • by dryeo ( 100693 )

            Then there is pig shit, cow shit and of course, people shit, run off from lawns, including large ones that people play golf on and simple erosion, possibly made worse by development and climate change.
            It is a problem that is much more complicated then farmers wasting fertilizer.

            • Then there is pig shit, cow shit and of course, people shit, run off from lawns, including large ones that people play golf on

              I am not convinced that people crapping on golf courses is really a major factor in the destruction of our oceans.

              • by dryeo ( 100693 )

                With golf courses, it is dumping nitrogen and phosphorous in large quantities on it. Note that the nitrogen and phosphorous are basically synthetic manure.

          • The article mentions Chesapeake Bay as a success story.

            "[Breitburg] pointed to recoveries in Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Thames river in the UK, where better farm and sewage practices led to dead zones disappearing."

        • You are assuming a linear projection of something that is highly unlikely to scale linearly with either time or population growth.

          Had you read the first sentence of my comment, you would know that I did not assume any projection. I cited an authoritative study of present-day population.

          Even if you only look at current data, it is appears that we have already passed an inflection point (the second derivative is now negative).

          Since you have chosen to bring in the jargon of calculus, perhaps you also remember how to perform integration.

      • Have you seen the documentary called "Idiocracy"? Any attempt to solve the population problem is going to backfire horribly. Soon people will be watering plants with sports drinks because they think plants crave electrolytes.
      • Odd that my comment should have been moderated "Off Topic", since overpopulation is obviously the main cause of pollution.

        I also notice that some two dozen follow-up comments focus on that issue.

    • It's much easier to re-oxygenate the water than to take out the CO2 from the air.
  • by Aurelfell ( 520560 ) on Thursday January 04, 2018 @02:45PM (#55864273)
    . . . and one that we might be able to solve by better managing our watersheds. It would be expensive, but peanuts compared so some of the issues that get all the press, and would probably have more side benefits. Unfortunately, no one has found a way to use this issue to push their unrelated political agenda, so you don't hear much about it.
    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday January 04, 2018 @03:09PM (#55864451)

      It's a more complex problem than you might think. I just listened to an interview with a farmer locally who outlined a problem with watershed protection -- property taxes. At least in this state, there's no way for the farmer to escape property taxes on land they take out of production to limit or inhibit runoff -- it's taxed as if it was productive farmland.

      I think another element of this, which is much bigger, is of course commodity agriculture. Farmers don't use any more chemicals than they have to (they're not free), but they do use as much as is necessary to hit yield numbers, and much of this is driven by the prices that Cargill or ADM will pay.

      • by HiThere ( 15173 )

        Sorry, but you are talking about an idealized farmer. Most don't fit that pattern, and will willingly use excess fertilizer "just in case". And also use weed and insect killing sprays with excessive abandon. There aren't any good global guidelines, you need to analyze each case separately to get near optimum use, and it's not that easy, so...we'll just use a bit more, just in case.

        Please note that one farmer doing this isn't a problem. But when thousands do, it becomes one.

        P.S.: Also see the above comm

      • That is not quite true.
        The fact is,that fertilizers and pesticides are sprayed over the fields and they easily use 10x what is needed. That is why so much run-off. However, if either were applied DIRECTLY to the plant and NOT to the field as a whole, then it would be possible to change the volume to 1/10, and with little to no run-off.

        At some point, we will need to walk away from things like crop dusting and instead automate chemical applications in tiny amounts.
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        Unproductive land. Visit surveyor, visit land brokerage, slice of piece of unproductive and sell it, no taxes. So exactly how much land is now a rich person tax cheat, you know funnel non-farming income, through a farm, to cheat on taxes, I hear it is a favourite hobby of the rich and greedy. For a farmer, have unproductive land, than who is kidding who, fucking sell it, why pay taxes on unproductive land.

    • . . . and one that we might be able to solve by better managing our watersheds. It would be expensive, but peanuts compared so some of the issues that get all the press, and would probably have more side benefits. Unfortunately, no one has found a way to use this issue to push their unrelated political agenda, so you don't hear much about it.

      Expensive = Starvation for the poor...

      Just so it's clear, making food more expensive to produce does little to you and me but increase the grocery budget, but in some parts of the world even modest increases in food costs is catastrophic to the poor and helpless who WILL starve because they cannot afford to pay...

      Also, just because WE decide to do this, doesn't mean the problem goes away because there is zero chance that the starving farmers outside this country will willingly do this too.

      • Just so it's clear, making food more expensive to produce does little to you and me but increase the grocery budget, but in some parts of the world even modest increases in food costs is catastrophic to the poor and helpless who WILL starve because they cannot afford to pay...

        People in Zaire aren't eating wheat grown in Kansas. Or if they are, we're solving the wrong problem.

        Food production should be sufficiently local that we don't all have to do it the same way. Concentrating food production to huge monocultures makes us susceptible to catastrophic failure.

        • Nice in theory, but I can tell you haven't driven I70 between Salina KS and Denver. There is a whole lot of wheat growing on that route... Or I80 across Iowa where you will find a bunch of corn growing in the summer and smell a lot of pigs and chickens year round. We have HUGE monocultures in our farming operations and it's part of what makes that trip to the grocery store possible because we have efficient, large scale, farming processes to create the cheap and abundant supply of food.

          This "local food p

          • We have HUGE monocultures in our farming operations and it's part of what makes that trip to the grocery store possible because we have efficient, large scale, farming processes to create the cheap and abundant supply of food.

            Yes, and I'm saying that's the problem.

            • We have HUGE monocultures in our farming operations and it's part of what makes that trip to the grocery store possible because we have efficient, large scale, farming processes to create the cheap and abundant supply of food.

              Yes, and I'm saying that's the problem.

              So you are advocating we make food more expensive then? Give up on the efficiency gains we've made in the production of food...

              Why not just admit that you want people to die of starvation... Because that's what fixing your perceived "problem" is going to accomplish in the long run.

              • So you are advocating we make food more expensive then? Give up on the efficiency gains we've made in the production of food...

                Testing makes food more expensive. We do that, because the alternative is outbreaks of deadly diseases.

                Can I assume you work in technology? I'll try an example from your world. QA makes code more expensive. But we do it anyway, because the alternative is sometimes things fail. The question is how much testing is enough?

                Why not just admit that you want people to die of starvation... Because that's what fixing your perceived "problem" is going to accomplish in the long run.

                The long run is exactly the problem. Monocultures are great in the short run. In the long term they're susceptible to catastrophic collapse. AKA famine. Food that's a little more expensive do

                • So you are advocating we make food more expensive then? Give up on the efficiency gains we've made in the production of food...

                  Testing makes food more expensive. We do that, because the alternative is outbreaks of deadly diseases.

                  Can I assume you work in technology? I'll try an example from your world. QA makes code more expensive. But we do it anyway, because the alternative is sometimes things fail. The question is how much testing is enough?

                  Like testing raw milk for the presence of antibiotics? (Which costs pennies per test and takes about 2 min worth of labor?) Tests like that?

                  I think you WAY over estimate the costs of "food chain testing" in most cases. Yes, we have a lot of safety controls and pathogen testing, but I dare say it's pretty cheap considering and it's more about handling processes being safe and verifying that nothing has crossed various barriers with your surveillance testing. Yes, I grew up on a farm and also have worked

                  • But you have to admit, this alarmist view is often used to win arguments... Used by climate change zealots advocating things like carbon emission caps, used by politicians to justify their social program of the day ("Don't kill Grandma!", "Oh the children will starve without this help!"). Why is it invalid here and not there?

                    Actually, climate change zealots usually say we're going to kill everyone. The ones claiming their opponents want to kill grandma are the death panel folks, and the "think of the children" trope is usually talking about drugs. So which side of the political aisle does that put people on?*

                    * Ad hominem FTW.

                    • Both.. This is a political tool, used to varying degrees on both sides.

                      However, I'd like to point out that "Death Panels" was really about rationing healthcare using the left's language. The fact was (and is) that in socialized medicine, one has to decide at what point you have to let specific people go without specific levels of care because you simply cannot afford to give everybody everything possible. At some point, you have to draw a line and say "we will not pay for that" because it is too expensi

                    • At some point, you have to draw a line and say "we will not pay for that" because it is too expensive for the benefits gained. In many cases this will determine who lives and who dies. Thus "Death Panels" was a valid description of the group of bureaucrats who where going to decide what got covered by Obamcare and what didn't, though it was inflammatory in it's choice of words..

                      I'll take one step down this rabbit hole.

                      To the extent that you're right, those "panels" have always existed. What's different is that it's insurance companies looking at their bottom line who have been running them. What changed with the Affordable Care Act was that it was elected representatives and appointed regulators making those decisions.

                    • What changed? LOL..

                      Well, people had a choice of insurance companies, so they could change companies if they didn't like their policy's coverage. If it's the government where this board exists, you have to change countries wouldn't you...

                      Obamacare put the decisions about minimum acceptable care and what insurance must cover squarely in the governments control. So now, even though I'm not possibly going need it, I must pay for prenatal care coverage.....

        • When it comes to food distribution, we've been solving the wrong problem for a long, long time.

      • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

        Expensive = Starvation for the poor...

        Nobody gives fuck number one about "the poor." We deliberately burn literal mountains of food because Al Gore. We apply huge multipliers to the cost of everything — housing, vehicles, energy and on and on — to assuage the endless anxieties of the comfortable. We don't hesitate to freeze our poor elderly to death [theguardian.com] on behalf of these anxieties. No one will be swayed by arguments with this basis.

        • by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Thursday January 04, 2018 @05:37PM (#55865407)

          Expensive = Starvation for the poor...

          Nobody gives fuck number one about "the poor." We deliberately burn literal mountains of food because Al Gore. We apply huge multipliers to the cost of everything — housing, vehicles, energy and on and on — to assuage the endless anxieties of the comfortable. We don't hesitate to freeze our poor elderly to death [theguardian.com] on behalf of these anxieties. No one will be swayed by arguments with this basis.

          Not sure I can argue with you... We literally burn millions of bushels of corn in our cars every year as "renewable" "Green" fuel as one example. Which is pretty darned stupid given the huge impact that farming all that corn has on the environment and the fuel needed to till, plant, harvest, transport, ferment and distill all that corn into motor fuel. We also pay billions of dollars in government subsidies and tax incentives to all the people involved to make it reasonably cost effective and pushing up the cost of corn.... All to the determent to the poor people who depend on cheap corn to stay alive...

          • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

            [Bioethanol] is pretty darned stupid given the huge impact that farming all that corn has on the environment and the fuel needed to till, plant, harvest, transport, ferment and distill all that corn into motor fuel.

            Beef, too! Calorie for calorie, it's several times more efficient to eat plants directly than feed it to cows and harvest the meat.

            But "starvation for the poor" really isn't a good argument for food subsidies, because food subsidies prevent the profit motive from seeking cheaper sources of nutri

            • Calorie for calorie, it's several times more efficient to eat plants directly than feed it to cows and harvest the meat.

              However, livestock can consume and digest fibrous cellulose-heavy plant matter than humans cannot digest, nor reasonably process into food fit for humans. These plants grow wild and require very little in the way of resources, they can grow on land where plants fit for human consumption cannot grow.

              Hence a certain level of livestock are beneficial to keep, to process plant matter that is inedible for humans, into meat and milk that is fit for human consumption.

              Do we need the massive amount of cattle that we

  • Global security (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Ichijo ( 607641 )

    Most sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and current trends would lead to mass extinction in the long run, risking dire consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the sea.

    It seems the USA's silence on climate change risks backlash from countries like Japan and Korea who might decide that eating is more important than military protection. The USA would have fewer eyes on other countries in the region (mainly China and Russia) but at least the Tweeter in Chief could take credi

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I don't think Japan should be lecturing anyone on stewardship of the Oceans. (Fukushima, whale hunting, overfishing, etc.)

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The oceans are the 'corn belt' of Japanese food production.

        Should you choose to attempt to interfere with Japanese whaling or fishing vessels, be prepared for a very long swim home.

    • by atrex ( 4811433 )
      Except that Mr Orange Tweets McGee has increased the military's budget, substantially. And there's no incentive for him to decrease it since he's running around trying to sell massive stockpiles of weapons to the middle east.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 04, 2018 @03:23PM (#55864561)

    The article directly states that it is dead zones near shore and describes that as happening from run off and pollutants. But then they bring climate change in, which is an entirely different thing. Solving the run off and pollution problems is a demonstrably doable project. Solving warming, would do little or nothing for these coastal dead zones and is not demonstrably doable. But politics...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So warm waters have nothing to do with the increased growth of the algae that is causing the condition? I am so happy that you figured out the temperature problem. You'll have cantaloupes in growing in alaska year round in no time at all.

      But dumbasses....

  • So... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 )

    ..." She pointed to recoveries in Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Thames river in the UK, where better farm and sewage practices led to dead zones disappearing."

    So not really CLIMATE related, is it?
    Oh, there's a SUPPOSED climate connection, but that's guessing.
    It's the same with the Great Barrier Reef - the cataclysmic, sky-is-falling whinging is about ocean warming and coral death (never mind that corals are one of the oldest life forms on the planet, having thrived in both warmer and cooler climes as wel

    • by suutar ( 1860506 )

      The excerpt in the summary distinguishes between near-shore zones, which are caused by runoff, and further out (and larger) zones, which are supposedly caused by warmer water just not carrying as much oxygen. I have't RTFA so I can't speak to whether the rest of it maintains that distinction clearly, but there is supposed to be a distinction.

    • Re:So... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 04, 2018 @04:12PM (#55864871)

      ..." She pointed to recoveries in Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Thames river in the UK, where better farm and sewage practices led to dead zones disappearing."

      So not really CLIMATE related, is it?
      Oh, there's a SUPPOSED climate connection, but that's guessing.
      It's the same with the Great Barrier Reef - the cataclysmic, sky-is-falling whinging is about ocean warming and coral death (never mind that corals are one of the oldest life forms on the planet, having thrived in both warmer and cooler climes as well as faster-rate-of-change situations) when in fact local changes to farming practices in Australia had an IMMEDIATE impact on the improvement of the reef.

      Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause of the large-scale deoxygenation, as warmer waters hold less oxygen.

      The coastal dead zones result from fertiliser and sewage running off the land and into the seas.

      So there are two causes for two different, but related, effects. You didn't even have to RTFA, it was in the summary.

  • Greenhouse gasses are killing the fish in the ocean? Can we have our nuclear power now?

    Of all the energy sources we have available to us today nothing has a lower carbon footprint or lower cost than nuclear power. Oh, and it's the safest. Don't believe me that it's safe? Look it up yourself. What about the next Chernobyl or Fukushima? Modern reactors don't do that. That's like complaining about the safety of a new Ford Mustang because the Ford Model T had no seat belts or airbags.

    Even if a new nuclea

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause"
    I'm all for less pollution and more environmentally friendly everything, and also less global population, however this statement is wildly speculative.

  • ... the statement that "Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause of the large-scale deoxygenation". There is and has always been "Climate change" for many reasons. In the 1600's the world and its oceans were warmer than they are today and I'm fairly certain that there was less fossil fuel burning that there is today. Let's not perpetuate misinformation. That being said, I am 100% in favor of eliminating fossil fuel burning as a source of energy and all over the world
  • It is the very existence of humans in growing numbers that is changing the environment and changing this or that is only a patch.
  • Does this mean we have vast seas of liquid hydrogen at the bottom of our oceans? By what chemical process is the oxygen extracted from the water?

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      I think it's called anerobic decomposition...well, after stuff rotting faster than fresh water brings in more Oxygen.

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