A Dead Zone

This picture is of the hypoxic area in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest “dead zone” in the western Atlantic. Since the beginning of this site we have tried to accentuate the wonders of nature, creative and collaborative approaches to conservation, and other fun stuff.  Every now and then a dose of scientific explanation helps put this in perspective, even if it is a downer like hypoxia.

Hypoxia occurs when oxygen concentrations in the water are too low to sustain most life, and is created by a process known as eutrophication. This is the over-enrichment of water by nutrients, which cause dense growth of algae that consumes oxygen as it multiplies and decomposes. The resulting lack of oxygen can cause large die-offs of marine life, seriously threatening ecosystems in the Gulf.

Excessive fertilizer use is responsible for the nutrient-saturated runoff that accumulates in the Mississippi River and flows into the Gulf. Corn, wheat, and soy are most often grown in monocultures on ill-suited land and require especially efficient surface drainage and high amounts of fertilizer for large yields. Currently, most subsidies for these three commodities are supply expanding (i.e. farmers produce more and receive increased payments), so it is unsurprising that nutrient flux is highest in the country where subsidy payments are highest.

How can we mitigate this dead zone?

I have no perfect or comprehensive answer, but over the next few days I’ll offer some of the key components to an effective solution.

5 thoughts on “A Dead Zone

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