Monday, June 12, 2023

The "Dead Zone"?

 The dead zone is an area with low oxygen levels, leading to the death of marine life. It is primarily caused by excessive nutrient runoff from Midwest farms, specifically from fertilizer use, which eventually reaches the Gulf through the Mississippi River.

 Scientists have released their 2023 forecast for the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, predicting it to be approximately 4,100 square miles this summer. Although larger than last year, it is still smaller than the average size.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses models and data from the U.S. Geological Survey to make annual forecasts for the dead zone. Although nitrate and phosphorus discharges in the Mississippi River and Atchafalaya River were below average, this season's forecast still exceeds the federal Hypoxia Task Force's goal of reducing the dead zone to 1,900 square miles or smaller by 2035. The average size of the dead zone over the past five years has been 4,280 square miles, more than double the target, and it has been consistently increasing in size over time.

Don Scavia, an emeritus professor at the University of Michigan involved in the forecast research, highlights the lack of progress in reducing the dead zone's size, suggesting that current efforts to mitigate nutrient runoff have not been effective. He criticizes the prioritization of industrial agriculture over water quality by federal and state agencies, as well as Congress.

NOAA attributes the larger forecasted size to lower river flow rates. Despite significant rainfall and flooding in the upper Midwest earlier in the spring, the discharge in May from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers was approximately 33% below the long-term average.

Lauren Salvato, policy and program director at the Upper Mississippi River Basin Association, is optimistic about the projections and emphasizes that states are working diligently to meet their nutrient reduction goals. Many states within the Mississippi River basin have developed their own plans, in coordination with the Hypoxia Task Force, to address nutrient runoff.

Salvato acknowledges the positive impact of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which has allocated $60 million over five years to the task force's action plan. Some states are utilizing their portion of the funding to implement sustainable farming practices, such as cover crops, while others are increasing staffing. However, she notes that the results of these efforts will take years, possibly decades, to measure effectively.

Although NOAA described this year's forecast as "below average," Matt Rota, senior policy director at Healthy Gulf, an environmental advocacy group, expresses disappointment and criticizes NOAA's portrayal as misleading. He highlights that the forecasted dead zone is twice the size of the reduction goal and emphasizes the need for enforceable regulatory actions or substantial federal investment to address the ongoing problem. While the funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is a positive step, Rota argues that it falls far short of what is necessary to solve the issue.

Rota emphasizes that dead zone forecasts go beyond mere numbers; they have significant implications for the livelihoods of thousands of people along the Gulf Coast, particularly those dependent on fisheries that are threatened by the dead zone.

NOAA and its research partners conduct a monitoring survey of the dead zone each summer, and the results are typically released in early August.

References: NOAA,

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Climate Crisis and the Canadian Wildfires

 Political figures such as AOC and Bernie Sanders, along with leaders from the entertainment and activism spheres, issued a stark warning on Wednesday about the dire implications of the wildfire smoke engulfing the East Coast. They emphasized that this smoke is a clear indication of the ongoing climate crisis.

Drawing attention to the smoke and the recent extreme temperatures in Puerto Rico, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took to Twitter, emphasizing our lack of preparedness for the climate crisis. She called for immediate action to adapt our food systems, energy grids, infrastructure, and healthcare to effectively respond to and mitigate the forthcoming challenges.

Echoing similar concerns, progressive advocate Bernie Sanders expressed on Twitter that approximately 98 million people on the East Coast are currently under air quality alerts due to the Canadian fires, and highlighted that New York City recently experienced the world's worst air quality. He stressed the connection between climate change and the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, urging urgent action to avoid this becoming our new reality.

The impact of the smoke was not limited to the halls of Congress, as prominent celebrities also shared their thoughts. Bravo TV host Andy Cohen posted on Instagram, remarking on the apocalyptic atmosphere caused by the pervasive smoke in New York City.

Scientists concurred that the wildfire incidents were unmistakable signs of the existing climate crisis and served as a glimpse into the future if necessary changes are not implemented. In a statement, the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy organization, highlighted that the record-breaking Air Quality Index (AQI) levels in New York City due to Canadian wildfire smoke were indicative of the climate crisis. The statement also pointed out that similar crises are already prevalent in other parts of the world.

Supporting these observations, Dr. Lucky Tran from Columbia University shared a video on Twitter, showcasing an unusually hazy sunrise over New York City caused by the wildfire smoke. Dr. Tran emphasized that air quality levels were significantly unhealthy, surpassing the guidelines recommended by the WHO, thus underscoring the reality of living through the climate crisis.

The entire northeastern region of the United States is currently grappling with smoke drifting south from over 400 wildfires raging in Canada. These fires have prompted mass evacuations in Quebec and Canadian officials are concerned that this could become the country's most severe wildfire season on record, with more than 6.7 million acres already destroyed.

Here are a few resources to review Air Quality Alerts for your area:  

In English:

In Spanish (En Español:

References; and Yahoo News