U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Science Advisory Board
Background Information

Document NameHypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico
Document AuthorRabalais, N.N.
Turner, R.E.
Wiseman, W.J.
Short DescriptionJournal of Environmental Quality, 30, 320-329.
CategorySubgroup 1: Characterization of the Cause(s) of Hypoxia
Publication Year2001

Abstract: Seasonally severe and persistent hypoxia, or low dissolved oxygen concentration, occurs on the inner- to mid-Louisiana continental shelf to the west of the Mississippi River and Atchafalaya River deltas. The estimated areal extent of bottom dissolved oxygen concentration less than 2 mg L-1 during mid-summer surveys of 1993-2000 reached as high as 16 000 to 20 000 km(2). The distribution for a similar mapping grid for 1985 to 1992 averaged 8000 to 9000 km(2). Hypoxia occurs below the pycnocline from as early as late February through early October, but is most widespread, persistent, and severe in June, July, and August. Spatial and temporal variability in the distribution of hypoxia exists and is, at least partially, related to the amplitude and phasing of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya discharges and their nutrient flux. Mississippi River nutrient concentrations and loadings to the adjacent continental shelf have changed dramatically this century, with an acceleration of these changes since the 1950s to 1960s. An analysis of diatoms, foraminiferans, and carbon ac accumulation in the sedimentary record provides evidence of increased eutrophication and hypoxia in the Mississippi River delta bight coincident with changes in nitrogen loading.