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Researching and Restoring the Gulf

2014 February 6

By Marguerite Huber

Hypoxia sounds like some sort of deadly disease. While it is not a disease, it is in fact deadly. Also referred to as dead zones, hypoxic water kills bottom-dwelling marine life such as crabs and mussels. (To learn more, see the video at the end of this blog.)

Dead zones lack dissolved oxygen and are caused primarily by excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. Too many nutrients cause algae and plankton to grow in large numbers, and as the algae die and decompose, oxygen is consumed.

Excess nutrients are especially a problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Every summer, nutrient-rich freshwater from the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf, resulting in a dead zone of about 7,772 sq. mi. that causes massive fish kills and chases other creatures further out to sea.

In an effort to understand this annual occurrence, EPA researchers have developed a modeling framework for predicting how nutrient management decisions and future climate change scenarios will impact the size, frequency, and duration of hypoxic conditions that form in the Gulf of Mexico every summer.

Providing 17% of the Nation’s gross domestic product, the natural resources of the Gulf’s coastal and marine habitats and their ecosystem services are critical to both the regional and national economy. That’s a major reason why EPA researchers are exploring ways to improve and restore Gulf water quality and aquatic habitats.

Since the 1990’s, the Agency and its partners from coastal states have been monitoring estuaries and most recently, wetlands. This baseline came in handy in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, and it will continue to help researchers track the degree of recovery resulting from ongoing and future restoration actions in the Gulf.

Monitoring in the future will also help inform environmental management decisions by addressing linkages between ecosystem condition and the goods and services provided. Agency researchers have several methodologies in development for examining these linkages, including spatial analysis tools, and human well-being indices.

About the AuthorMarguerite Huber is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. Bouchakour permalink
    February 6, 2014

    a problem as hypoxic water is a threat to marine life that must be resolved in a radical way and as soon as possible.
    but the fact of the satellite monitoring shows the interest that he be given.
    Best regards

  2. Jaime Sanchez Cortes permalink
    February 6, 2014

    The death zone grow around the globe may be the begining of a earth catastraphy

  3. Pat Young permalink
    February 6, 2014

    Quick question, if 17% of the GNP is coming from the Gulf Region, that would make it a heck of a big ticket item? Since you stated it, I’ll not make reference of any other instance. If the big ticket item running off in the yearly drain in the Mississippi contains a lot of Nitrogen, would it not be a great thing to strain some of it as it can be used as tree food. Could this not be a source of resources to segregate run-offs, meaning to capture the Nitrogen and then send it to burnt out/ or ailing pre-selected areas to revive natural ecosystems areas that are so badly damaged that only pumping nitrogen into say 1 acre plots to try to revive dying or badly injured woodlands. If this were ever to be possible, what sort of sediments would have to be captured, and how would it have to be treated so that it could go back into lands nearby where it was created.

    So, what time period would you base a land save on today or say at a time Management deems would be the best time based on plant stocks from say 1900, 1940, or whenever? Any how it is just an idea I had, like growing grass, trees, bushes, and all the other plant life stock from a natural concoction placed by the suspected origin of the life on a particular area. So, it would be something that creates its own plants and seeds by having everything it needs for say ten years or until it can grow enough water to sustain the other lives, and to watch it re-grow the whole area the way it was designed to be, minus poison oak, sumac, and the rest of the bandy crews that make first aid kits highly valued. So, in my way of thinking the tree establishes the life in the community it lives in by making water, after it consumes Nitrogen.

  4. Heljo Helga Valter permalink
    February 10, 2014


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