Environmental Protection

Average 2014 Dead Zones Predicted in Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake

"We are making progress at reducing the pollution in our nation's waters that leads to 'dead zones,' but there is more work to be done," said NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D. "These ecological forecasts are good examples of the critical environmental intelligence products and tools that NOAA provides to interagency management bodies, such as the Chesapeake Bay Program and Gulf Hypoxia Task Force. With this information, we can work collectively on ways to reduce pollution and protect our marine environments for future generations."

NOAA and partner organizations are predicting average, but still large, hypoxic or "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico this year and a slightly above-average hypoxia in the Chesapeake Bay. The modeling is forecasting the Gulf zone at 4,633 to 5,708 square miles, approximately the size of the state of Connecticut.

The Gulf prediction is based on models developed by NOAA-sponsored modeling teams and individual researchers at the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences/College of William and Mary, Texas A&M University, and the U.S. Geological Survey, it they rely on nutrient loading estimates from the USGS.

The Chesapeake Bay forecast predicts a slightly larger-than-average dead zone in the nation's largest estuary, with a mid-summer low-oxygen hypoxic zone of 1.97 cubic miles, an early-summer oxygen-free anoxic zone of 0.51 cubic miles, and late-summer oxygen-free anoxic area of 0.32 cubic miles. Because of the shallow nature of large areas of the bay, the focus is on water volume or cubic miles instead of square mileage as used in the Gulf.

Hypoxic (very low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) zones are caused by excessive nutrient pollution, and their size is affected by wind speed, wind direction, precipitation, and temperature. "We are making progress at reducing the pollution in our nation's waters that leads to 'dead zones,' but there is more work to be done," said NOAA Administrator Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D. "These ecological forecasts are good examples of the critical environmental intelligence products and tools that NOAA provides to interagency management bodies, such as the Chesapeake Bay Program and Gulf Hypoxia Task Force. With this information, we can work collectively on ways to reduce pollution and protect our marine environments for future generations."

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