A large “dead zone” could mean little life in parts of the Gulf of Mexico this summer.

A report recently released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates waters that flow from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, could be ground zero. It’s referred to as the “hypoxic zone”, an area of low to no oxygen that can kill fish and other marine life. Scientists predict the area could be over 78-hundred square miles. That’s about the size of the state of Massachusetts. It's close to the record set back in 2017, in which the "dead zone" was 8,776 square miles.

The “dead zone” is primarily caused by excess nutrient pollution from human activities such as urbanization and agriculture, throughout the Mississippi River watershed. That watershed stretches from the eastern Rocky Mountains to western Pennsylvania. Water runoff in these areas drains into the Mississippi River, and that all leads to the Gulf of Mexico. The result is water which has next to no oxygen, resulting in the loss of marine life.

Surprisingly, the high amount of rainfall this spring could be part of the problem. All that rain means more “nutrient loading” to the Gulf of Mexico. In short, the rain helped wash more into local streams, creeks, and rivers.

The United States Geologic Survey estimates that over 156-thousand metric tons of nitrate and over 25-thousand metric tons of phosphorus poured into the Gulf of Mexico in the month of May alone. That’s an increase compared to years in the past.

In early August, an NOAA-supported monitoring survey will confirm the size of the “dead zone”.