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Extreme Weather: A Mixed Bag for Dead Zones | WRI Insights

Published on: 10/10/2012

This post was co-authored with Bob Diaz, a WRI partner and professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

This year’s extreme weather events – a warm winter, even warmer summer, and a drought that covered nearly two-thirds of the continental United States – has certainly caused its fair share of damages. But despite the crop failures, water shortages, and heat waves, extreme weather created at least one benefit: smaller dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

On a normal year, rain washes pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous from farms and urban areas into the two bodies of water, fueling algae growth. When this algae dies, it consumes oxygen and creates hypoxic areas, or ‘dead zones,’ which can kill fish and other marine life. Less rain this year meant fewer pollutants making their way into the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico. The Chesapeake Bay’s summer dead zone was the smallest since record-keeping began in 1985, and the Gulf of Mexico’s covered one of the smallest areas on record.

 

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