NAPLES — Scientists are retooling their research into the dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico with the help of $2.4 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency announced this afternoon.
The money, part of a multi-year $12 million research investment, will help answer emerging questions about more precise details of when, where and how the dead zone forms and how it affects Gulf fisheries, including shrimp, Atlantic croaker, Gulf menhaden, bay anchovy, Atlantic bumper and Spanish bumper.
Scientists also will develop forecasts to allow coastal managers and fishermen know the size of the dead zone and where it will form up to six months in advance.
The dead zone off the coast of Louisiana is caused by nutrient enriched runoff, such as from fertilizer or animal waste, that causes algae blooms that suck oxygen out of the water as they decompose, smothering whatever can't get out of the way.
Although some dead zones occur naturally, agriculture and other land-use practices "have greatly increased the frequency and severity of their occurrence in recent decades," according to NOAA's announcement.
In 2009, the dead zone measured about 3,000 square miles, smaller than in past years, but more severe in terms of how low the oxygen levels got and how far up from the bottom the dead zone extended.
The dead zone threatens commercial and recreational fisheries that generate about $2.8 billion a year, according to NOAA figures.