Marine biology

'Dead zone' the size of Massachusetts predicted in Gulf of Mexico

A stormy day on Pensacola Beach.
Photo: Carolyn_Davies/Getty Images

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting this year's annual "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico to be unusually large, coming in at "approximately 7,829 square miles, or roughly the size of Massachusetts."

Context: A dead zone is a hypoxic area, meaning that little or no oxygen is present, killing most marine life. NOAA says the event is largely a result of nutrient pollution flowing into the Gulf from the Mississippi River watershed. The surplus of nutrients, such as phosphorous, results in excess algae growth. When decomposed in water, the algae causes oxygen levels to plummet in the ocean's depths.

Earth hurtles toward extinction crisis — 1 million species at risk

A wild Sumatran orangutan feeding on fruits in Aceh, Indonesia.
A wild Sumatran orangutan feeding on fruits in the Leuser ecosystem near Suaq Balimbing, Aceh in Indonesia. Photo: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

The diversity of life on our planet is deteriorating far more rapidly than previously thought, with up to 1 million species threatened with extinction, many of which could be lost "within decades," concludes a sweeping new scientific assessment released Monday in Paris.

Why it matters: The report, from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), finds that factors such as land use change, overfishing, pollution, climate change and population growth are pushing nature to the brink. Only "transformational change" to the way society operates can put us back on course to meet global sustainable development targets, which nearly every country on Earth has committed to, the report concludes.