ANN ARBOR, Mich., June 19 (UPI) -- The Gulf of Mexico's oxygen-deprived "dead zone" could be one of the largest on record this summer, researchers at the University of Michigan say.
This so-called "dead zone" is expected to blanket about 7,980 square miles, an area about the size of New Jersey, Donald Scavia, a university aquatic ecologist, said in a release Friday.
The Gulf's largest "dead zone," or hypoxic region, developed in 2002 and measured 8,484 square miles.
The "dead zone" forms each spring and summer off the Louisiana and Texas coast when oxygen levels drop too low to support most life in bottom and near-bottom waters, Scavia said.
Water runoff from farm land containing fertilizers and livestock waste -- some of it from as far away as the Midwest Corn Belt -- is the main source of the nitrogen and phosphorus that cause the Gulf's oxygen-depleted zone.
"The growth of these dead zones is an ecological time bomb," Scavia said. "Without determined local, regional and national efforts to control them, we are putting major fisheries at risk."