Northern Gulf of Mexico Ecosystems & Hypoxia Assessment (NGOMEX) Background

The northern portion of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, a region containing almost half of the nation's coastal wetlands and supporting commercial and recreational fisheries generating $2.8 billion annually, has undergone profound changes due to nutrient enrichment of Mississippi River water from land-based sources. This over-enrichment of nutrients stimulates the development of seasonal hypoxia (very low oxygen waters) over the Louisiana/Texas continental shelf during the summer and results in the largest recurring hypoxic zone (or “Dead Zone”) in the United States. Hypoxic waters can cause habitat loss, stress and even death to marine organisms, affecting commercial harvests and the health of impacted ecosystems. While the dead zone size can vary substantially from year to year, the 5-year average is remains larger than the Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (HTF) reduction goal of 5,000 square kilometers.

louisiana_hypoxia

Map showing the hypoxia area on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2017. Credit: N. Rabalais, LSU/LUMCON.

Program Highlights

Building on 18 years of research, the NGOMEX program addresses the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico through the funding of multi-year, interdisciplinary research projects. As part of these efforts, NGOMEX has heavily supported monitoring activities in the Gulf of Mexico including the annual July shelfwide monitoring cruise which provides the data used by the HTF to monitor changes in the dead zone over time. Current studies are documenting the dynamics of the hypoxic zone over the Louisiana continental shelf and helping to better define the biological, chemical, and physical processes that influence hypoxic zone development and determine its extent, and impacts on fisheries.

Links to current projects (2016-2020) include: