Glass half full or half empty?The good news is that the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is smaller than expected this summer. The bad news is that it's still 5,840 square miles big, about the size of Connecticut, so it's not like it's a small problem. The dead zone is caused primarily by agricultural runoffs that "stimulate an overgrowth of algae that sinks, decomposes and consumes most of the oxygen needed to support life." Not much life without oxygen, hence dead zone.
“A near-record area was expected because of wet spring conditions in the Mississippi watershed and the resultant high river flows which deliver large amounts of nutrients,” said Nancy Rabalais, Ph.D. executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), who led the July 21-28 survey cruise. “But nature’s wind-mixing events and winds forcing the mass of low oxygen water towards the east resulted in a slightly above average bottom footprint.”
Last year, the severe drought shrunk the dead zone to 2,889 square miles, an area slightly larger than Delaware (the 4th smallest dead zone on record). The largest dead zone took place in 2002, at 8,481 square miles.