Dead Zones Degrade All U.S Coastal Regions

September 15, 2010

More "dead zones" in US coastal waters keep turning up. There were just 12 of these hypoxic areas (known to have sharply reduced oxygen concentrations) in the 1960s. Now there are more than 300 areas with hypoxia, or nearly half of the 647 waterways investigated by a consortium of federal agencies that released its report on Sept. 3, 2010.

Appendix III lets you zoom in on the areas of most interest to your audience. It lists water areas by region, state, overall water body (such as Lake Superior, Gulf of Mexico, north Atlantic), and subarea within that water body, and notes whether the subarea is a dead zone, and what evidence supports that conclusion.

The number of known dead zones has risen steadily through the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, in all coastal areas. Some of this increase is likely due to more extensive investigation into the problem, and some is due to ongoing degradation caused by sources such as urban, suburban, agricultural, and pasture runoff, atmospheric deposition, and climate change. The specific source(s) of hypoxia can vary dramatically from location to location.

Two well-known dead zones are in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, but an area off the Oregon and Washington coast is now the second largest in the US and third largest in the world. The Pacific and North Atlantic areas have seen the largest increase in dead zone sites since the 1980s.

The report's global map of dead zones illustrates the vastness of the problem, and reinforces the fact that this is not just a US dilemma. The authors concede that efforts to manage the nutrient pollution sources that feed US dead zones have had little significant impact.

The agencies and organizations participating in the report include the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, NOAA, EPA, USGS, USDA, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

One example of media coverage: