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Gulf 'Dead Zone' Stirred Up By Hurricane Barry

The 2019 "dead zone" stretched 6,952 miles, making it the 8th largest one in history.
The 2019 "dead zone" stretched 6,952 miles, making it the 8th largest one in history.

Every summer, fish and other marine life are forced out of their habitats in the Gulf of Mexico due to an insidious “dead zone.”

The area, also known as a hypoxic zone, is a section of water that lacks enough oxygen for marine life to survive.

Scientists at the predicted this year’s dead zone would stretch 7,829 square miles.

But they announced at a press conference Thursday that it actually only reached 6,952 miles.

One contributor to the difference in size was Hurricane Barry.

The hurricane tore through the Gulf of Mexico in mid-July, just days before scientists measured the zone.

As it moved through the Gulf, scientists say the storm stirred up the water column, bringing in more oxygen to an otherwise dead zone.

"Hurricane Barry, which passed over the hyxpoxic zone just before the cruise, likely played a major role in mixing the water column and disrupting the hypoxia that already formed. Hypoxia typically takes some time to reform after an event like Barry,” said Steve Thurr, director at NOAA.

Had the hurricane not occurred, scientists say it’s likely the zone would have been larger.

The “dead zone” has a designated team to fight it – the Hypoxia Task Force.

This force’s goal is to reduce the zone to just 1,900 square miles.

In order to this, they go after the heart of the problem – nutrient run-off.

Bill Northey, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said the task force has set goals for the states surrounding the Mississipi watershed, including reducing nutrient run-off by 45%.

“Minnesota did some work at looking at buffer strips, in Iowa we looked at a broad-based nutrient strategy,” Northey said. “Some of the lower basin states are focused on irrigation water recapture and capturing those nutrients that would have traveled with that irrigation water.”

“The premise here is to bring the states together to be able to share and hold each other accountable.”

The largest recorded dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico was 8,776 square miles, which occurred during the summer of 2017.

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Carrie Pinkard is the Stephen Noble news intern for the summer 2019 semester. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida State University in English, before heading to USF St Pete to pursue a master’s in journalism.