Bay “Dead Zone” Predicted to Be Larger Than Average This Year

After the Chesapeake Bay enjoyed the highest levels of dissolved oxygen in decades last year, a Bay Journal blog article (2017-06-15) reported that the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) and the University of Michigan are predicting the Bay’s oxygen-starved “dead zone” will be larger than in recent years – growing to 1.9 cubic miles. The article indicated that weather was a key factor in the growth of the dead zone. From the article:

“The forecast is a reminder that the improvements such as we saw last year are subject to reversal depending on weather conditions—two steps forward, one step back,” said UMCES President Donald F. Boesch. …

This spring, scientists say, heavy rains fell in Pennsylvania and New York, which flushed an above-average amount of nitrogen down the Susquehanna River. …

“Although the higher forecasts for this summer seem to buck a recent trend toward lower anoxic volumes in Chesapeake Bay, they are consistent with known links between high river flows and oxygen depletion,” said Jeremy Testa, assistant professor at the UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

The article noted that despite the dead zone forecast, overall Bay health has shown signs of long-term improvement based on the restoration and pollution reduction efforts undertaken by the federal government, states, and local governments.

“Despite this year’s forecast, we’ve made great strides in reducing nutrient pollution from various sources entering the Chesapeake Bay, and we are starting to see positive long-term signs,” said Rob Magnien, director of NOAA’s Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research. “However, more work needs to be done to address non-point nutrient pollution from farms and other developed lands, to make the Bay cleaner for its communities and economic interests.”

The article also discussed the importance of continued federal funding for Bay restoration efforts.