AP: Hurricane stirs Gulf of Mexico, hypoxic dead zone shrinks to just under the record

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It’s an ill wind that blows no good, the saying goes, and it gets an example from Hurricane Dolly that made landfall near the Texas-Mexico border recently. Its swirling winds ventilated the gulf’s waters just enough to foil predictions that the dead zone of low-oxygen water near the Mississippi Delta would be a record this year. The AP‘s Janet McConnaughey writes it ably.

Many outlets wrote, in the last week or so, that the zone looked sure to break the old record. One account, also from AP but by Michael Graczyk about a week ago, is worth singling out simply, and unfortunately, for its confused description of how the zone forms. The Tracker had seen it then but let it slide a while. Now it’s worth bringing up to contrast with McConnaughey’s piece. The earlier story’s flaws are not felonies but the reporter implies that the prime villain is the water column’s stratification – due in part to salinity gradients – in the gulf. There is little new in that. What researchers have said is new in recent decades are algal blooms triggered by fertilizer runoff in the Mississippi River drainage. The dying algae eventually sink, rot, and consume most of the oxygen down there.

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-CP