R. Reese Fuller

Dead zone could grow

by R. Reese Fuller

The Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone" off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas could reach 8,800 square miles, roughly the size of New Jersey. Louisiana scientists and NOAA officials say the recent Mississippi River floods have been a major contributing factor and will release the latest official data later this month.

The dead zone is an area in the Gulf where oxygen levels drop too low to support life in the bottom waters and threatens both commercial and recreational fisheries. Nitrogen levels have tripled in the Gulf over the past 50 years. Last year, the dead zone was 7,903 square miles. In 2002, the largest dead zone on record, the area measured 8,481 square miles.