Capstone Title

A Holistic Approach to Understanding and Managing the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia

Defense Date

7-7-2010

Document Type

Capstone

Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

Donald McCorquodale

Second Advisor

Curtis Burney

Abstract

Anthropogenic eutrophication events are increasing in occurrence world-wide (Rabalais et al. 2002). Land reformation and current agricultural practices, specifically of corn, are increasing the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) loading within the Mississippi River Basin and its tributaries. A nutrient rich discharge plume extends into the Gulf of Mexico; creating an oxygen depleted (hypoxic zone), nitrogen limited environment where few higher organisms are able to survive (Nelson et al. 1994; Boesch and Brinsfield 2000; Krug 2007). The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico has been increasing in size since the 1950’s in correlation to fertilizer application rates (Nelson et al. 1994; Boesch and Brinsfield 2000; Rabaliais et al. 2001; Rabaliais et al. 2002; Rabalais et al. 2007). The increasing extent of the hypoxic zone includes detrimental biological, social and economic repercussions. Lack of long term water column data presents limitations to the physical extent, location and water quality properties of the hypoxic zone throughout time. Paleoindicators in sediment cores are utilized as a means to the past ecosystem parameters, revealing biological regime shifts, benthic biodiversity and biomass loss within the hypoxic zone (Nelson et al. 1994; Boesch and Brinsfield 2000; Krug 2007). Current management plans to reduce the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico are analyzed with a focus on the implementation of wetland/riparian zones as a mechanism of phytoremediation.

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