Ethanol’s effect on the “dead zone”

In a posting on Discover Magazine’s blog today, it was reported that this summer the largest “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico — 8800 square miles—was caused by increased corn production for ethanol and thus more fertilizer runoff, as well as Mississippi River flooding in the Midwest. The posting cited the Baton Rouge Advocate, which quoted the scientists from LSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who were researching the area.

LSU scientist R. Eugene Turner said this year’s record “dead zone,” which is roughly the size of New Jersey, is in large part due to nitrogen leaking into the Mississippi from a huge increase in corn planting.

The recent increase in corn crops is due to the nation’s increased efforts to find alternative fuel resources, such as corn-powered ethanol, he said.

The nitrogen from fertilizer leaks into the river, which then flows into the Gulf, Turner said.