TAMU researchers to examine scope and scale of Gulf “dead zone”
Steve DiMarco and Thomas Bianchi, professors in Texas A&M University’s Department of Oceanography and veteran observers of previous Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” excursions, departed last week from Galveston to get an early measure of the size and scope of this year’s dead zone, which might be the biggest ever because of historic flood waters emanating from the Mississippi River.
A dead zone, or hypoxia, occurs when oxygen levels in water drop to dangerously low levels, and severe hypoxia can result in fish kills and adversely affect many types of marine life.
“With the huge amounts of water flowing into the Gulf from the Mississippi River this year, it is very possible the dead zone area could be the biggest ever, and that’s what we need to examine and measure,” DiMarco explained.
“I plan to map the size of the dead zone from Matagorda Bay to the Chandeleur Islands, which are just off the Louisiana Coast. It’s about 400 miles of coastline and this should tell us just how big of a dead zone is being created from the huge discharge of waters from the Mississippi River.”
The Mississippi River accounts for almost 90 percent of the freshwater runoff into the Gulf of Mexico. The size of the dead zone off coastal Louisiana has been routinely monitored for about 25 years. Previous research has also shown that nitrogen levels in the gulf related to human activities have tripled over the past 50 years.
DiMarco left June 23 aboard the research vessel RV Manta and is expected to return on July 1. Bianchi departed on a different ship on June 19 and will try to determine what root causes and processes are at work as the flood waters spill into the coastal waters off the Louisiana coast. He will be examining coastal waters and marshes near the Mississippi River delta and Atchafalaya Bay. Also assisting Bianchi will be Heath Mills, assistant professor of oceanography, who will be making his seventh research cruise.
A total of 12 graduate students will be on the two cruises to get a first-hand look at some of the crucial research being done in the Gulf of Mexico. The project is funded by the NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research.