This year's Gulf of Mexico dead zone -- an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and marine life -- will be approximately 5,898 square miles, the same range as it has averaged over the last several years, scientists forecast.
These experts point out that these hypoxic zones or "dead zones" are caused by high levels of nutrients, primarily from activities such as industrialized agriculture and inadequate wastewater treatment.
"Dead zones are a real threat to Gulf fisheries and the communities that rely on them," said Russell Callender, Ph.D., assistant NOAA administrator for the National Ocean Service.
"We'll continue to work with our partners to advance the science to reduce that threat. One way we're doing that is by using new tools and resources, like better predictive models, to provide better information to communities and businesses," Callender stressed.
NOAA reported that the hypoxia forecast is part of a larger NOAA effort to deliver ecological forecasts that support human health and well-being, coastal economies, and coastal and marine stewardship.
The entity also explained that the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia forecast is based on nutrient runoff and river and stream data from USGS.
USGS estimates that 146,000 metric tons of nitrate and 20,800 metric tons of phosphorus flowed down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers into the Gulf of Mexico in May 2016.
This is about 12 per cent above the long-term (1980-2015) average for nitrogen, and 25 per cent above the long-term average for phosphorus.
USGS operates more than 2,700 real-time stream gauges, 60 real-time nitrate sensors, and collects water quality data at long-term stations throughout the Mississippi River basin to track how nutrient loads are changing over time.
"By expanding the real-time nitrate monitoring network with partners throughout the basin, USGS is improving our understanding of where, when, and how much nitrate is pulsing out of small streams and large rivers and ultimately emptying to the Gulf of Mexico," said Sarah J. Ryker, Ph.D., acting deputy assistant secretary for water and science at the Department of the Interior.
"The forecast puts these data to additional use by showing how nutrient loading fuels the hypoxic zone size," Ryker added.
The confirmed size of the 2016 Gulf dead zone will be released in early August, following a monitoring survey from July 24 to August 1, conducted on a NOAA vessel and funded through a partnership between NOAA, Northern Gulf Institute, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
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