NEW ORLEANS -- Scientists in Michigan and Louisiana are predicting a big summer "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico unless a tropical storm hits the area shortly before or during the annual measurement. In the Chesapeake Bay, scientists expect a smaller-than-average area where there's too little oxygen to support fish, shellfish and other aquatic life.
The hypoxic zone in the Gulf is likely to be the largest since annual measurements began in 1985, covering 8,561 square miles – about the size of New Jersey, according to scientists from Louisiana State University and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
University of Michigan scientists predict that it will be smaller but still sizeable: the seventh-largest ever, at 7,286 square miles. That would be about the area of Connecticut, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia combined, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which released those estimates and the one for the Chesapeake Bay on Tuesday.
Low- and no-oxygen areas in the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary, aren't measured in square miles because so much of the bay is shallow. Instead, they're measured in cubic miles and water volume. This year's low-oxygen zone is expected to affect 1.46 cubic miles in midsummer, with no measurable oxygen in 0.26 to 0.38 cubic miles, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. That is smaller than average, NOAA researchers said in news release.
The Gulf dead zone affects nationally important commercial and recreational fisheries and threatens the region's economy, according to NOAA. It said the Chesapeake dead zones, which have been highly variable in recent years, threaten a multi-year effort to restore the Bay's water quality and enhance its production of crabs, oysters and other important fisheries.
"Coastal hypoxia is proliferating around the world," said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. "It is important that we have excellent abilities to predict and control the largest dead zones in the United States. The whole world is watching."
All the forecasts are based on nutrient runoff and river stream data from the U.S. Geological Survey. The nutrients are largely nitrogen and phosphorus, much of them from farms upriver.
Since 1995, the Gulf dead zone has averaged 5,960 square miles, an area roughly the size of Connecticut. In 2001 and 2008, state, federal and tribal agencies in the Mississippi River watershed – about 40 percent of the country – set a goal to reduce the size of the Gulf hypoxic zone to an average of 1,950 square miles by 2015.
There has been little progress getting there, said Donald Scavia, a University of Michigan aquatic ecologist who contributes to both forecasts.
"The size of the Gulf dead zone goes up and down depending on that particular year's weather patterns. But the bottom line is that we will never reach the action plan's goal of 1,950 square miles until more serious actions are taken to reduce the loss of Midwest fertilizers to the Mississippi River system, regardless of the weather," Scavia said.
Last year, drought upriver cut runoff so drastically that the Gulf of Mexico dead zone was the fourth-smallest on record, less than 2,900 square miles. Michigan scientists had predicted it would cover just under 1,200 square miles while Louisiana, scientists predicted about 6,200 square miles.
Both groups said they refined their techniques this year.
Scientists will measure this year's Gulf dead zone July 21-28, LUMCON director Nancy Rabalais said.
A tropical storm during or within two weeks of that period would reduce its size to as little as 5,344 square miles by mixing oxygen at the surface deep into the water.
The Chesapeake Bay measurements will be made public in October after surveys by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
University of Michigan hypoxia forecasts: http://snre.umich.edu/scavia/hypoxia-forecasts
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: http://www.noaa.gov
Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium: http://www.lumcon.edu
Also on HuffPost:
This April 21, 2010 photo shows a hawksbill sea turtle as it cruises over a reef just off the shore of Curacao. From mesmerizingly decorative buildings to lush coral reefs beneath sparkling turquoise waters, this Dutch Caribbean island has more than enough sights on land and under the sea to keep visitors restfully busy for a week. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
This April 9, 2012 photo provided by NOAA shows french grunts swimming around sponges and coral off the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, taken as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sea-floor habitat research project aboard NOAA's Nancy Foster ship. In a three-week project that wraps up Saturday April 21, scientists with the NOAA are mapping an area to help officials determine what sort of rules are needed to protect the recently created Northeast Great Reserve, Puerto Rico's first officially designated marine corridor. (AP Photo/NOAA)
FILE - In this undated file photo released by Conservation International, a healthy coral reef is seen off the Caribbean island of Bonaire. The International Union for Conservation of Nature says the Caribbean's reefs are in sharp decline, with live coral coverage down to an average of just 8 percent, in a report released Sept. 7, 2012. That's down from 50 percent in the 1970s. (AP Photo/Andy Bruckner, NOAA Fisheries, File)
This image provided by NOAA shows a close look one of the many interesting images collected by the Little Hercules ROV during the INDEX 2010 Exploration of the Sangihe Talaud Region off Indonesia in July. Scientists using cutting-edge technology to explore waters off Indonesia were wowed by colorful and diverse images of marine life on the ocean floor _ including plate-sized sea spiders and flower-like sponges that appear to be carnivorous. They predicted Thursday Aug. 26, 2010 that as many as 40 new plant and animal species may have been discovered during the three-week expedition that ended Aug. 14. (AP Photo/NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program)
FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2006 file photo provided by Centre of Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, fish swim amongst bleached coral near the Keppel Islands in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs across the world, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday, July 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Centre for Marine Studies, The University of Queensland, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, File)
FILE - In this Nov. 26, 2009 file photo, orange colored ringed rice coral, or montipora patula, is seen in waters off Waimanalo, Hawaii. A study by The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says Americans value coral reefs around the main Hawaiian Islands at the amount of $33.57 billion. Researchers arrived at the figure by surveying 3,200 Americans across the nation and asking them how much of their income taxes they would want devoted to hypothetical initiatives to improve the health of Hawaii's coral reefs. (AP Photo/Keoki Stender, file)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE PRATABUY
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY PIERRE PRATABUY A scientist diver discovers the flora and fauna located on artificial reefs, by 30 meters deep (98.42 ft) on July 8, 2012 off shore of southern city of Marseille. The immersion in 2008 of nearly 30,000m3 (1.059.439 ft3) of artificial reefs in the bay of Marseilles rose to a return of the species. The presence of such some 200 hectars (494 acres) of artificial habitat for flora and fauna, located between the islands of Friuli and the Prado Bay, is 'the largest artificial reef made ??up in Europe,' said Didier Reault, French right wing party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) City delegate to boating, beaches and national park of the Calanques. A Big Blue in a 'good ecological status' in 2020 ? This is the aim of the Water Agency and of the Interregional Sea Directorates (DIRM), a French Minister of Ecology Department, providing a financing project of 600 million euros (737 millions dollars) over six years including 6 millions (7.37 millions dollars) to raise awareness. AFP PHOTO / BORIS HORVAT (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/GettyImages)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY INDONESIA-TOURISM-P
TO GO WITH AFP STORY INDONESIA-TOURISM-PAPUA-MINES, FEATURE BY LOIC VENNIN In this photograph taken on October 21, 2011 a diver explores the coral reef in the waters of Raja Ampat's Kri Island located in eastern Indonesia's Papua region. Called the last paradise on earth, Raja Ampat acrhipelago was nominated as World Heritage Site of UNESCO with its largely pristine environment considered as one of the most important marine biodiversity in the world. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Two-year-old Green Sea Turtle "Sea Biscu
Two-year-old Green Sea Turtle 'Sea Biscuit' with her front left flipper missing, swims in a tropical reef aquarium at Oceanworld Manly, north of Sydney on May 20, 2011. Sea Biscuit who was rescued by Oceanworld staff in 2009 and was so badly injured when washed ashore that she lost her front left flipper, has been handraised by senior aquarist Marina Tsamoulos and has learnt to dive and swim with her remaining three flippers. World Turtle Day will be celebrated on May 23. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - This undated file photo provided by the Australian Institute of Marine Science shows white coral syndrome in Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Ocean acidification has emerged as one of the biggest threats to coral reefs across the world, acting as the "osteoporosis of the sea" and threatening everything from food security to tourism to livelihoods, the head of a U.S. scientific agency said Monday, July 9, 2012. (AP Photo/Australian Institute of Marine Science, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2009 file photo, fish swim near coral reefs in the waters in the waters of Tatawa Besar, Komodo islands, Indonesia. Coral gardens off the Komodo Islands were just a few months ago teeming with clouds of brightly colored reef fish, octopi with fluorescent banded eyes and black-and-blue striped sea snakes. Today, after being pounded by increasingly brazen blast fisherman, several diving sites within the U.N. World Heritage Site have been transformed into desolate grey moonscapes. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2009 file photo, coral reefs are seen in the waters of Tatawa Besar, Komodo islands, Indonesia. Coral gardens that were among Asia's most spectacular, teeming with colorful sea life just a few months ago, have been transformed into desolate gray moonscapes by fishermen who use explosives or cyanide to kill or stun their prey.(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara, File)
A photo taken by a camera submerged into
A photo taken by a camera submerged into a pond shows small fish seen swimming under thin ice in St. Petersburg park on February 13, 2011. PHOTO/ KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Environmental Groups Challenge Navy's Use Of Sonar In West Coast Training Exercises
ABOARD THE MANUTEA, CA - JANUARY 30: Bottlenose dolphins swim ahead of the bow of a boat off the southern California coast on January 30, 2012 near Dana Point, California. A coalition that includes Native American tribes, Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council is on the National Marine Fisheries Service for more protection for dolphins, whales, and other migrating marine animals from the use of sonar in training by the US Navy on the West Coast. Environmental groups argue that mid-frequency sonar alters the behavior of sound-sensitive marine life and, in some cases, causes fatal results. Some whales are believed to communicate across hundreds of miles of ocean through sound. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)