Biofuels could contribute to historically big Gulf of Mexico dead zone

Still think corn-based biofuels will save the world? Here’s another piece of the no-they-won’t puzzle: Researchers say more intensive farming of more land in the Midwestern U.S. — in part a result of the push for more corn production — could contribute to the largest-ever “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. The zone is created when fertilizer and other runoff find their way down the Mississippi River and into the gulf, encouraging algae to grow. The algae’s decay process sucks up all the available oxygen, leaving none for the poor little fishies. Last year’s dead zone was 6,662 square miles; scientists modeling the zone for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say this year’s could be as big as 8,500 square miles. “I am anticipating a historically large [dead zone] this summer,” says Eugene Turner from Louisiana State University, noting that the change could be due to weather, love of biofuels, or other farming practices. Tom Philpott surveys the unseemly scene in Gristmill.