Hypoxia occurs when the amount of oxygen in water becomes too low to support most aquatic life (typically below 2 mg/L). Hypoxia is an expanding global problem and a symptom of degraded water quality, largely resulting from human activities such as agricultural runoff, burning of fossil fuels, and wastewater treatment discharges. Hypoxic waters can become dead zones for organisms that cannot escape. This directly impacts ecosystem health, and often reduces the value of commercial and recreational fisheries. The majority of NOAA’s efforts to understand and reduce hypoxia in U.S. coastal waters are supported through the NCCOS Competitive Research Program.
To achieve these activities, NCCOS supports a Hypoxia National Office at the Northern Gulf Institute, a NOAA Cooperative Institute. This office advances research and management of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico and addresses NOAA mandates under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act. The Hypoxia National Office works with NOAA to provide technical assistance, observations and monitoring, coordination, and the science underpinning the management of the annual hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
NCCOS and the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force
NCCOS supports NOAA’s role in the Task Force, which is charged with collaboratively reducing and controlling the Gulf of Mexico dead
zone, the largest hypoxia area in the U.S. We support the Task Force by:
Models are given physical and chemical oceanographic data like temperature, salinity, size of fish, stocking density, feed rate, growth, and metabolism to predict effects from an aquaculture operation in the surrounding water.
Dissolved Nutrients Modeling:
Dissolved nutrients modeling determines the expected impact of nutrients on water quality by considering the nutrient output from the aquaculture facility combined with the environmental capacity to disperse or assimilate that waste via water currents or water exchange.
Wave Exposure Modeling:
Wave modeling produces coastal and ocean predictive models based on the geomorphology and oceanographic features of a region. Improved forecasting ensures that aquaculture facilities are not developed in an area that would be inundated with high wave energy or storm surge.
Coastal Hypoxia Research Program
The Coastal Hypoxia Research Program is an NCCOS competitive research program focused on advancing the
understanding and management capabilities to assess, predict, and reduce hypoxic events and their environmental impacts
on our nation’s oceans, estuaries, coasts, and Great Lakes ecosystems. This program is authorized by the Harmful Algal Bloom and
Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA), 33 U.S.C. §4001–4009.
The overall goal of the Coastal Hypoxia Research Program is to improve the ability of resource managers to effectively prevent or reduce the ecological and economic impacts of hypoxia on marine and Great Lakes ecosystems. Prevention or reduction of hypoxia requires a fundamental understanding of the causes and consequences of hypoxia and tools to evaluate the effectiveness of management strategies. This program provides research results and modeling tools for resource managers to assess alternative management strategies to address hypoxia in ecosystems and make proactive and informed decisions. Research topics include: determining the causes of hypoxia; developing the capability to predict its occurrence in response to varying levels of anthropogenic stresses; and evaluating the subsequent ecological, economic, and social impacts of hypoxia.
Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Impact Studies
The northern Gulf of Mexico contains almost half of the nation's coastal wetlands and supports commercial fisheries generating one billion dollars annually. Hypoxic waters prevalent during the summer can cause habitat loss, stress, and even death to marine organisms, affecting commercial harvests and the health of impacted ecosystems. Current studies are documenting the dynamics of the hypoxic zone over the Louisiana continental shelf, including its extent, the processes that influence its development, and its impact on fisheries.
Other program offices are also conducting activities to reduce nutrient inputs to the Gulf of Mexico and monitor the dead zone and its impacts to fishery resources.
NOAA Runoff Risk
This program offers real-time decision support tools that provide farmers and producers actionable guidance about when to avoid nutrient applications due to unfavorable environmental conditions. These tools are based on the weather and hydrologic modeling capabilities of the National Weather Service.
Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Watch
This program maps dissolved oxygen data to monitor hypoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. Data are collected during the annual NOAA Fisheries Summer Groundfish Survey, which evaluates population and health of commercially important shrimp, fish, and other organisms relative to environmental conditions as part of the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program.
Take a Closer Look: Environmental Interactions
We are assisting coastal managers and aquaculture farm operators with the development of environmental monitoring protocols for marine aquaculture, which will support sustainable development of the aquaculture industry. Monitoring is a powerful tool for ensuring aquaculture activities are conducted with minimal long-term impacts to marine ecosystems. The best monitoring protocols provide a standardized guide for the collection of data to reflect environmental trends around a farm, without placing undue burden on farm operators.