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How Agricultural Run-Off Causes Oxygen Depletion in the Gulf of Mexico

written by: JenniferB•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 10/21/2008

Oxygen depletion, or hypoxia, is an environmental condition that occurs when the runoff of agricultural lands creates a region of over production of algae that takes over an area which eventually becomes void of oxygen Learn more about how this occurs and some ideas for minimizing this problem.

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    Adios Oxygen

    The Mississippi River basin drains twenty-one states and two Canadian provinces. Its watershed contains more than half of all the croplands in the United States which is also one of the world's most productive agricultural regions. While Americans find great economic value in this productive food-growing corridor, it does not come without a greater cost.

    Unfortunately, with all of this fertile production has come a severe negative environmental impact. The agricultural run-off has contributed to the third largest zone of oxygen depletion in the world. This zone is located in a northern region of the Gulf of Mexico and forms every spring and summer when the agricultural growing seasons are at their height. Oxygen depletion, or hypoxia, is an environmental condition that occurs when the runoff of agricultural lands creates a region of over production of algae that takes over an area which eventually becomes void of oxygen

    Because of the immense economic importance of the Mississippi River Basin, many prefer to act as if there is no easy solution for solving this growing problem however, over fertilized zones around the world, and the dramatic impact that they have on the environment are a reality that we must deal with, and the sooner the better for the environment and the business of agriculture. Using preventative measures such as the use of less fertilizer and switching to greener fertilizer optiuons, reduction of nitrogen inputs from various sources, planting strips of forests and grasslands to soak up excess nitrogen, and restoring and creating wetlands between crop fields and the waterways emptying into the Mississippi River can all be important first steps to take.

    Additional measures include improving flood control to prevent the release of nitrogen from floodplains during major floods and the upgrade of sewage treatment plants to reduce the discharge of nitrates into waterways. In addition, the nitrogen compounds from the atmosphere that get deposited into the soil and end up as run offs in the ocean could be reduced by requiring lower emissions of nitrogen oxides from cars and phasing in forms of renewable energy to replace the burning of fossil fuels.

    What are the effects of an oxygen depleted aquatic environment? A body of water needs to maintain a specific amount of dissolved oxygen to maintain species of fish and other organisms. Without the essential levels of oxygen in the environment, the ecosystem will collapse causing all of the life within it to die.

    To read more about oxygen depletion, or hypoxia, in the Gulf of Mexico, visit this site.