A&M researchers to study Gulf dead zone

By Greg Barr , Senior Reporter, Houston Business Journal
Thursday, October 22, 2009, 1:07pm CDT

Dead zones, or hypoxia, occur when oxygen in water drops below 2 milligrams per liter. Severe hypoxia levels can result in fish kills and can affect the Gulf fishing industry.

While the 2008 dead zone off the coast of Louisiana was nearly 8,000 square miles — the second largest in recorded history — this year’s dead zone made a sudden reversal as one of the smallest.

DiMarco and his team — in cooperation with five other North American universities — have examined dead zones off the Louisiana and Texas coasts since 2003. The latest round of funding, including research at Texas A&M University at Galveston, is pegged at $501,398 this year, pending Congressional approval.

Predictions are based largely on the amount of nutrient pollution from farm fertilizers and other sources entering the Gulf via the Mississippi River. DiMarco and colleagues have found, however, that other factors such as wind and current reversals, low waves, summer heat and upwelling from coastal marshes and estuaries also contribute to hypoxia.

“This year’s forecast, which did not do a very good job of predicting the actual size of the dead zone, underscores the importance of our research at Texas A&M,” DiMarco said. “Unraveling the complex system of processes that create dead zones will lead us in the direction of better predictions.”

Funding for the grant comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.