New Orleans, La. – Professor Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium says two factors are combining to form a dead zone predicted to be the size of Delaware and New Jersey. That's more than 9400 miles covered on the bottom of the Continental shelf.
"The fresh water is an issue because it creates the physical structure that the hypoxia can develop in, but the main culprit, because if you don't have the nutrients producing too much phytoplankton you're not going to have hypoxia - so the main culprit is the nitrogen."
That nitrogen is coming from fertilizer used agricultural areas along the upper Mississippi now heading toward the Gulf. It's accumulating to levels that suck the life-sustaining oxygen from the water.
"Over the years there's been more cropland and more fertilizer to fuel biofuels, basically. And so the amount of nitrogen per amount of water that's been coming out of the river has gone up and up and up."
Rabalais says she'll be cruising the Gulf next month with other scientists gathering readings that will be used to map what develops.
For WWNO, I'm Eileen Fleming