Massive ‘dead zone’ in Gulf of Mexico sets new record

NEW ORLEANS — There’s an unwanted record in the Gulf of Mexico: This year’s “dead zone,” where there’s too little oxygen to support marine life, is the biggest ever measured.

Scientists say the oxygen-depleted region is about the size of New Jersey, covering 8,776 square miles (22,720 square kilometres).

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Scientist Nancy Rabalais has been measuring the area since 1985. She and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released the latest measurement Wednesday.

Rabalais says the area was actually larger, but the mapping cruise had to stop before reaching the western edge.

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Studies based on nitrogen and phosphorus in the Mississippi River had predicted one of the largest dead zones ever.

The nutrients, which get carried down from the river, feed plankton blooms that die and sink. Their resulting decay uses oxygen.

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