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Hypoxia and Nutrient Pollution Accomplishments

CSCOR has been funding Hypoxia research (waters with too little oxygen to support most marine life, or “dead zones”) for nearly 20 years. The goal of CSCOR hypoxia programs is to provide timely and high-quality scientific results for use by natural resource managers in an effort to restore and protect coastal ecosystems. This program’s main accomplishments include:

Scientific Basis for Adaptive Management of Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia

Management actions to reduce the size of the dead zone in the northern Gulf of Mexico are developed through the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force. CSCOR research funded during the 1990’s provided the foundation for an Integrated Assessment completed in 2000 that examined the distribution, dynamics and causes of the hypoxic zone. This scientific assessment provided the basis for the development of the Task Force’s 2001 Action Plan to reduce, mitigate, and control the hypoxic zone. CSCOR has met many of the science needs outlined in the 2000 Integrated Assessment and 2001 Action Plan through its NGOMEX program. Accomplishments from the NGOMEX program, including model development, forecasting, and monitoring, formed the basis for a recent scientific reassessment of the 2001 Action plan. This reassessment led to an EPA Science Advisory Board report and culminated in the completion of a 2008 Action Plan. Click here for more information.

Quantifying the Impacts of Hypoxia to Living Resources
Understanding the impacts of hypoxia on living resources has become an increasing focus of CSCOR funded research in the Gulf of Mexico and other US coastal waters. Although questions remain, this research has found the displacement of shrimp and fish from important habitat in the Gulf of Mexico as well as displacement and reductions in growth of fish from Delaware Inland Bays. Research on plankton, which forms the basis of the food chain, in Lake Erie, Chesapeake Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico, has found alterations to the relationship between plankton and predators that rely on them for food. Other CSCOR-funded scientists have found sub-lethal impacts to reproduction in fish using new molecular techniques, applied economic models to assess the socioeconomics of hypoxia impacts, and found reduced growth in shrimp exposed to hypoxia. An understanding of the impacts of hypoxia is critical to the development of effective management strategies. Click here for more information

Model Development and Forecasting the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico
CSCOR has funded the development of at least four Gulf of Mexico models (Turner et al 2005, 2006; Scavia 2003, 2004; Justic et al 2002; Hetland and Dimarco 2008) related to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone. These models in addition to others developed by EPA have been used to determine the percent reduction in nutrient loads (45% reduction in both nitrogen and phosphorus) needed to reduce the size of the dead zone to the target size (5,000 km2). Since 2003, several of these models have successfully forecasted the size of the dead zone (area of low oxygen) in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. This prediction helps managers, policy makers, and the public better understand what causes the dead zone. Click here for more information.

Measuring the Size of the Dead Zone
Every July since 1985, Nancy Rabalais of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) with funding support from CSCOR, has mapped the size of the dead zone. Monitoring the size and geographic coordinates of the dead zone provide critical information both for measuring effectiveness of management strategies to reduce it but also as input to models being developed to explain the causes and forecast its ebb and flow over the course of the season. Click here for more information.

Modeling and Forecasting Hypoxia in the rest of US Coastal Waters
The number of areas in coastal waters with too little oxygen to support most marine life, otherwise known as dead zones, has greatly increased since the 1960s. Four hundred systems worldwide, including 166 in US waters, now have documented dead zones. A review paper (SCIENCE Aug 14) by CSCOR (CHRP) - funded researcher Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Rutger Rosenberg of the University of Gothenburg, attributes this dramatic trend to increasing nutrient pollution and the burning of fossil fuels.
CSCOR is currently funding development of two major regional models for Chesapeake Bay/Delaware Inland Bays and Narragansett Bay and one major watershed hypoxia project for Atlantic and Gulf coast estuaries. CSCOR has also provided funding to ascertain the causes of hypoxia in Hood Canal in Washington. The project scientists are working closely with coastal resource managers to cater the model outcomes to information needed for coastal zone and nutrient management decisions. Click here for more information