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U-M forecasters predict second-smallest Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone'

The Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone for 2012 is expected to be the second smallest on record—but not because of any cutback in nitrogen use.

Farmland runoff containing fertilizers and livestock waste—some of it from as far away as the Corn Belt—is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that cause the annual Gulf of Mexico hypoxic zone. Each year in late spring and summer, these nutrients flow down the Mississippi River and into the Gulf, fueling explosive algae blooms there.

When the algae die and sink, bottom-dwelling bacteria decompose the organic matter, consuming oxygen in the process. The result is an oxygen-starved region in bottom and near-bottom waters: the dead zone.

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