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This Year’s Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Could Be the Biggest on Record

June 20, 2013

This Year’s Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone Could Be the Biggest on Record

In previous years I would have taken the above headline as somber news, but I’m afraid that the size of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t really matter anymore.  It used to matter, because there was something we could actually do about it to a degree.  For those of you that don’t know about this man made phenomenon, it goes like this.  Farmers from the Northern plains all of the way to the Southern U.S. that farm nitrogen loving crops typically use nitrogen rich fertilizer to amend their soils annually.  This is and has been common practice since we got away from crop rotation and have been encouraged to voraciously plant fields intensively in the years following WWII.  Well not all of that fertilizer stays on the ground, especially in years of heavy rain.  The fertilizers run off into various tributaries that lead to the Mississippi River, the river than drains into the Gulf of Mexico dumping tons of the nitrogen based fertilizer directly into a warm, sun-lit body of water.  From here, algae and plankton (if there are any of the latter left) use this fertilizer in the same way a land based plant would and display tremendous levels of growth.  If that’s all that happened it I really wouldn’t be writing this blog posting.

The next step in this cycle is where the majority of the damage takes place.  As the algae and plankton die off their decomposition consumes copious amounts of dissolved oxygen from the surrounding water.  This is the same oxygen that all marine life needs to essentially breathe, and anything that can’t swim away in time dies.  This has been documented for many years and the size of this anoxic or dead zone waxes and wanes according to the amount of rainfall that took place upstream.  This used to be a major environmental concern as it determined how far out from shore members of certain fishing communities had to go in order to harvest their catch.  Ever since the deep water horizon incident I’ve cared less and less about the dead zone, mainly because it really isn’t going to change the fate of the Gulf of Mexico anymore.  According to the now deceased Matthew Simmons BP literally killed the Gulf of Mexico with their irresponsible negligence.  He spoke of a literal subsurface lake of oil that had been suppressed from rising to the surface with dispersants.  This was all so the cameras wouldn’t see what was going on, and you could believe in the BP advertisements that are bombarding everything from twitter to the nightly news currently.  They’ve probably spent more on those than the actual clean up which never really happened.  For more information on the lasting effects of this man made disaster please visit my previous post featuring the documentary “The Big Fix.”

Here's where most of the "clean up" effort went.  Hiding as much of the oil from you was priority number one.

Here’s where most of the “clean up” effort went. Hiding as much of the oil from you was priority number one.

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