The northern portion of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, which contains almost half of the nation's coastal wetlands and supports commercial and recreational fisheries which generate $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 in summer and results in the largest recurring hypoxic zone in the United States. In 2008, the hypoxic zone (or “Dead Zone”) was the second largest on record, encompassing more than 8,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Massachusetts. Hypoxic waters can cause habitat loss, stress and even death to marine organisms; affecting commercial harvests and the health of impacted ecosystems.
Building on nearly 20 years of research, the NGOMEX program addresses the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico through the funding of multi-year, interdisciplinary research projects. 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.