The oxygen-starved “cloud” — hypoxia explosion, or dead zone — at the bottom of the mighty Mississip’ was nearly 8,000 square miles last summer, about the size of New Jersey.
Off the Texas coast, we are now being informed by researchers at Texas A&M, is a coast-long lifeless stretch of water that has been sitting undetected for decades.
And it’s not likely to dissipate anytime soon.
This information comes less than a year after a portion of this massive zone was first confirmed off the Texas coast. Researchers say the zone extends at least 20 miles south of our sands and is “patchy,” though consistent.
Says Steve DiMarco, associate professor in Texas A&M’s College of Geosciences:
“Not all of the area from the Texas-Louisiana coast to Brownsville is a dead zone area, but very much of it is,” DiMarco explains. “The Texas dead zone appears to be more patchy and not as continuous as the Louisiana dead zone to the east, but much of the region there has very low oxygen levels, some extremely low.”
Dead zones are caused by farm fertilizers, urban runoff, and poorly operating water treatment plants that send huge nitrogen and phosphorus loads into the Gulf, where they cause algal blooms that literally eat up much of the available oxygen, leaving the affected waters at less than 2 parts per million dissolved oxygen, making it impossible for aquatic life to survive.
DiMarco says a comparison would be that of standing on top of a mountain. “You know the air is going to be thin up there because of the altitude,” he says. “The thin air has low oxygen levels making it uncomfortable and sometimes deadly to humans. That’s similar to what happens to marine organisms along the Texas coast.”
He notes the dead zone is believed to extend about 20 miles off the coast in these areas, but could be larger. “That’s one big question we need to find out – how large an area is being affected by this dead zone?” he says.
DiMarco plans to go to the affected areas off the Texas coast in July for more samples and to test the concentration levels of hypoxia from several sites.
The full press release is here.
Meanwhile, South Texas experienced an earthquake near Falls City this week, where tons of toxic and radioactive waste is stored by the DOE and interest in uranium mining in gearing back up.
You’ll see the approximate epicenter south of San Antonio looking like an egg. Funny how the only other reasonably active seismic areas in the state occur:
1. Where the state wanted to bury its low-level radioactive waste (along with those of Maine and Vermont) at Sierra Blanco in Far West Texas until a major fault was discovered… (no?!)
2. At the southwesternmost tip of the Panhandle where what could be the nation’s next nuclear waste dump may soon be approved for operation by the TCEQ.
Make sure to read Forrest Wilder’s excellent coverage on that topic.
[update: so what can be done to stop the dead zones in Texas? courtesy of Carleton College.]
What Can be Done to Remediate the Problem?
The key to minimizing the Gulf dead zone is to address it at the source. Solutions include:
- Using fewer fertilizers and adjusting the timing of fertilizer applications to limit runoff of excess nutrients from farmland
- Control of animal wastes so that they are not allowed to enter into waterways
- Monitoring of septic systems and sewage treatment facilities to reduce discharge of nutrients to surface water and groundwater
- Careful industrial practices such as limiting the discharge of nutrients, organic matter, and chemicals from manufacturing facilities
These solutions are relatively simple to implement and would significantly reduce the input of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Gulf of Mexico. A similar approach has been used successfully in the Great Lakes’ recovery from eutrophication.
The government is also funding efforts to restore wetlands along the Gulf coast to naturally filter the water before it enters the Gulf.