Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Oceanic dead zones

A dead zone "the size of New Jersey" has been identified in the Gulf of Mexico.

Such an area of ocean is called "a dead zone" when there is not enough oxygen present in the water to support life.  This usually occurs when there is an overgrowth of algae that eventually dies off and decomposes.  That process results in a greater amount of bacteria that then proceed to absorb all of the oxygen away from other sea life such as fish and vegetation. 

And that's exactly what's been happening in the Gulf.  The massive storms that have moved through the Midwest these past months have caused floods that washed nitrate and phosphorus down the Mississippi and into the Gulf.  While this area is the largest discovered thus far, it is not the only one.  That should concern anyone who a) works in the fishing industry b) eats seafood c) has any concern for the world's ecological well being or d) heck, even if you like to surf.

So can anything be done about this?  Let's check the Scientific American article I just linked:

"Fortunately, dead zones are reversible if their causes are reduced or eliminated. For example, a huge dead zone in the Black Sea largely disappeared in the 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union, after which there was a huge spike in the cost of chemical fertilizers throughout the region. And while this situation was largely unintentional, the lessons learned have not been lost on scientists, policymakers and the United Nations, which has been pushing to reduce industrial emissions in other areas around the globe where dead zones are a problem. To wit, efforts by countries along the Rhine River to reduce sewage and industrial emissions have reduced nitrogen levels in the North Sea’s dead zone by upwards of 35 percent."

There's the key, eh?  If we want to do something about it and if we act.  I am quite sympathetic to the needs of farmers.  After all, my grandparents were farmers and we all have to eat, right?  At the same time, there must be a way to strike a balance, whether it's through an alternative method of using chemicals or simply preventing runoff (if that's even possible.)  I mean, seems to me we've punished the sea enough through whaling, dolphin killing, oil spills, and ruptured nuclear reactors from submarines.

I'd say it's time to both clean up our act and our mess.

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