EPA funding study of Gulfs dead zone

Dec 7, 2006; 2theadvocate.com


EPA awarded grants to LSU’s Coastal Studies Institute here and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Cocodrie so researchers can work to better understand the “dead zones” that form each summer in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.

The grants are part of a $2.2 million effort designed to reduce the formation of large zones of low-oxygen water during the summers — areas usually referred to as the dead zone.

In 2006, the dead zone covered 6,662 square miles.

Excess nutrients flowing down the Mississippi River spark a growth of algae and other small plants that form the bottom of the food chain each summer. The excess algae and plants die, fall to the bottom and decay, using up the oxygen in the lower parts of the water. While some aquatic animals escape these large areas of low oxygen, many can’t and die.

There are concerns that the low-oxygen waters are seriously affecting fisheries.

The marine consortium, known as LUMCON, will receive $696,872 to extend its long-term monitoring program mapping the “dead zone” each year. Researcher Nancy Rabalais, who heads LUMCON, has been surveying the Gulf of Mexico each year to map the low-oxygen zone for years.

The Environmental Protection Agency also is giving the Coastal Studies Institute $215,959 to examine how oxygen and carbon cycle in the dead zone waters. Gene Turner has been working on a model to predict the size of the dead zone each year.

The results of both of these research projects should help scientists and others make better decisions on how to manage nutrients, EPA said in a news release Wednesday.

There is a national effort to get farmers and other groups along the river and its tributaries, especially in the upper reaches, to reduce the flow of nutrients from fertilizers and other activities from flowing into the Mississippi system and ultimately on to the Gulf of Mexico.