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Posts Tagged ‘corn crop’

Our Dead Zone Largest Ever This Year!

Posted by feww on July 16, 2008

Congratulations! We Are Breaking Another Record: Our Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico

Alas, the cost of Midwest flooding, the multibillion-dollar crop losses, doesn’t include the damage to our coastal waters and the marine “manna.”

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Summertime satellite observations of ocean color from MODIS/Aqua show highly turbid waters which may include large blooms of phytoplankton extending from the mouth of the Mississippi River all the way to the Texas coast. When these blooms die and sink to the bottom, bacterial decomposition strips oxygen from the surrounding water, creating an environment very difficult for marine life to survive in. Reds and oranges represent high concentrations of phytoplankton and river sediment. Image taken by NASA and provided courtesy of the NASA Mississippi Dead Zone web site.
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The annual dead zone, which stretches from Texas to Louisiana coasts, could grow to about 9,000 square miles (23,300 km²), nearly double the annual average since 1990 of about 4,800 square miles.

This year’s record dead zone is caused by inordinate demand for corn and soybeans which are used to make ethanol to boost gasoline supplies, and by the earlier Midwest flooding.

The massive increases in the use of fertilizers in Midwestern corn country results in the fertilizer run-off that flow down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. Nitrogen and phosphorus, the main constituents of fertilizers, promote excessive growth and decay of algae which cause severe reductions in water quality. The decaying aquatic vegetation or phytoplankton (an algal bloom) sinks to the bottom of the waters in the Gulf and is broken down by bacteria which consume the dissolved oxygen in the water and produce carbon dioxide.

The bacterial respiration process kills fish, clams, crabs, shrimp, zooplankton and all other species that swim in the water or dwell on the bottom of the Gulf [and other water bodies] creating dead zones.


Red algae completely covers this municipal reservoir. Credit: CASF. Photo date: July 14, 2008. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

“We’re planting an awful lot of corn and soybeans,” said Eugene Turner, a scientist at Louisiana State University. “It rinses off easily when there is a rain.”

“Excess nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed during the spring are the primary human-influenced factor behind the expansion of the dead zone,” said Rob Magnien, director of the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research.

One-third of this year’s U.S. corn crop, or 4 billion bushels, will go to make the alternate fuel ethanol, the U.S. government has projected, compared to 3 billion bushels of the 2007 crop. Reuters reported.

Related News Links:

Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” to hit record size: NOAA

Related Links:

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