Scientists studying the Gulf of Mexico's dead zone—an area of the ocean without sufficient oxygen to sustain marine life—have made a surprising discovery: This summer, the zone is much smaller than expected. A preliminary report issued this spring warned that the dead zone would likely break size records and grow to more than 8,000 acres. Scientists worried that spring flooding along the Mississippi River had carried high levels of fertilizer into the Gulf, feeding algae that chokes off the water's oxygen supply. As oxygen declines, marine life in the affected area must move or risk dying. But a report released yesterday by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium suggests that tropical storm Don, which moved through the Gulf in July, created heavy seas and re-oxygenated the water column. As waters settle, however, the storm's effect could subside, allowing the zone to re-expand. The largest Gulf dead zone on record was measured in 2002 at 8,400 square miles.
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