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Project Details

User-Driven Tools to Predict and Assess Effects of Reduced Nutrients and Hypoxia on Living Resources in the Gulf of Mexico

Project Status: This project began in September 2016 and is projected to be completed in September 2020

We are developing user-friendly, management-scale forecasting tools and quantitative indicators for hypoxia impacts on the Northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. We will assess minimum data needs to ensure these forecasts produce accurate and useful data for managers and stakeholders. Also, we will meet regularly with an advisory committee to evaluate the utility of these products for managers and stakeholders and to coordinate the transfer of these products to the management community.

Why We Care
The northern portion of the Gulf of Mexico experiences an annual summer hypoxia event when over-enrichment of nutrients in the water causes very low levels of dissolved oxygen. The dead zone of low oxygen in the northern Gulf of Mexico, occurring from Texas to Louisiana, is one of the most intractable environmental issues facing the United States. Far-reaching corrective measures implemented since hypoxia developed in the early 1980s have not yet resulted in hypoxia mitigation. Year after year, the dead zone varies in size but persists, seriously degrading the ecological health of the region.

The current goal of our Northern Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems and Hypoxia Assessment (NGOMEX) program is to conduct research that will improve existing models or develop new quantitative models to determine population- to ecosystem-level effects of Gulf of Mexico hypoxia, both spatially and temporally, on ecologically and commercially important aquatic species. The overall objective is to quantify, through multidisciplinary ecosystem models or other methods, the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of hypoxia, including an evaluation of the effects of alternative management strategies on ecosystem function and living resource populations.
 

What We Are Doing
The research team will develop user-friendly, management-scale forecasting tools and quantitative indictors for hypoxia impacts on the Northern Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. They will assess the minimum data needs (monitoring or modeling parameters and time and space scales) to ensure these forecasts produce accurate and useful data required by managers and stakeholders.

Previous work in the region by the principal investigators and their colleagues resulted in three tested models and expansive data sets from seven cruises. These will be used to estimate the effects of reduced nutrient inputs and hypoxic volume on living resources in the northern Gulf, and will form the basis of user-friendly tools to be transferred to resource managers. Regular input from an advisory committee will help guide the team to its goals of developing models that predict hypoxia effects on: 1) species-specific fish growth rate potential as a measure of Essential Fish Habitat and 2) biomass and catch of ecologically and economically important living resources.

The project team consists of Dr. Kim de Mutsert (Principal Investigator from George Mason University) and Dr. Matthew Campbell (Application Principal Investigator with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service), whose role is to ensure the outputs and outcomes of the project are transferred effectively to the management community. Co-investigators are Dr. Stephen Brandt (Oregon State University), Drs. Joe Buszowski and Jeroen Steenbeek (Ecopath International Initiative), Dr. Arnaud Laurent (Dalhousie University), and Dr. Kristy Lewis (George Mason University).
 

Benefits of Our Work
This project will produce tools that predict how hypoxia could affect: 1) species-specific fish growth rate potential as a measure of Essential Fish Habitat and 2) biomass and catch of ecologically and economically important living resources. Managers, stakeholders, and an advisory committee will provide the team with input over the course of the project, with annual workshops serving as venues to evaluate the utility of these tools for managers and stakeholders and to coordinate the transfer of these tools to the management community. 

The project will lead to an improved capability to assess the effects of alternative management strategies on ecosystem function, living resources, and fisheries revenue.

Region of Study: Gulf of Mexico

Primary Contact: David Hilmer

Research Theme: Coastal Pollution (Hypoxia + Eutrophication)

Related NCCOS Center: CSCOR



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