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October 19, 2007
NOAA has awarded first-year funding of $284,000 to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) as part of a three-year $781,000 project to develop a better understanding of how nutrient pollution from the Mississippi River affects the large area of low oxygen water called the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. The project will also look at how the dead zone affects commercially and recreationally important fish and shellfish.
Funds were awarded through NOAA’s Northern Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia and Ecosystems Research Program.
“A better understanding of the underlying causes of the dead zone is essential for predicting its effect on the Gulf fisheries and the region,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “The goal of this research is to help develop a range of options that coastal and upriver resource managers can use to prevent and reduce nutrient pollution that contributes to the dead zone.”
This project will provide data to verify water quality models and help resource managers determine the quantitative relationships between nutrient pollution and development, magnitude, longevity, and distribution of the dead zone. Findings will also support the development of more accurate predictive models of hypoxia development on the Louisiana continental shelf.
The dead zone is an area in the Gulf of Mexico where seasonal oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters. It is caused by a seasonal change where algal growth, stimulated by input of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, settles and decays in the bottom waters. The decaying algae consume oxygen faster than it can be replenished from the surface, leading to decreased levels of dissolved oxygen.
This past summer off the coast of Louisiana and Texas, an area of deep water covering 7,900 square miles was declared hypoxic. It is the third largest Gulf of Mexico dead zone on record since measurements began in 1985, and represents an area approximately the size of the state of New Jersey. Also, it is more than one and a half times the average annual dead zone area measured since 1990, 4,800 square miles. The largest dead zone ever recorded covered 8,494 square miles in 2002.
The research program, managed by NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research, seeks to provide resource managers with new tools, techniques, and information to make informed decisions, and assess alternative management strategies regarding hypoxia. Supported projects are leading to the development of a fundamental understanding of the northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, with a focus on the causes and effects of the hypoxic zone, and the prediction of its future extent and impacts on ecologically and commercially important living resources.
In fiscal year 2007, the NOAA National Ocean Service, through the center, provided approximately $10 million in competitive grants to institutions of higher education, state, local and tribal governments, and other non-profit research institutions to assist NOAA in fulfilling its mission to study our coastal oceans.
In 2007 NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, celebrates 200 years of science and service to the nation. From the establishment of the Survey of the Coast in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson to the formation of the Weather Bureau and the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in the 1870’s, much of America's scientific heritage is rooted in NOAA.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.