July 29, 2008 in Nation/World

Hurricane shrinks dead zone, scientist says

By JANET McCONNAUGHEY Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS – The oxygen-starved “dead zone” that forms every summer in the Gulf of Mexico is a bit smaller than predicted this year because Hurricane Dolly stirred up the water, a scientist reported Monday.

There is too little oxygen to support sea life for about 8,000 square miles – just lower than the record of 8,006 square miles recorded in 2001, said Nancy Rabalais, head of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

“If it were not for Hurricane Dolly, the size of the Dead Zone would have been substantially larger,” she said in a news release as she returned from her annual mapping cruise. Rabalais measures the area during the same period each year.

Scientists had predicted that flood runoff would bring so much fertilizer and other nutrients into the Gulf that the area of low oxygen would be 8,300 to 8,800 square miles. Those nutrients feed microscopic plants at the surface, which die and fall to the bottom. Their decomposition uses up the salty layer’s oxygen.

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