Geo-Marine Letters

, Volume 29, Issue 6, pp 405–414 | Cite as

The 20th-century development and expansion of Louisiana shelf hypoxia, Gulf of Mexico

  • Lisa E. Osterman
  • Richard Z. Poore
  • Peter W. Swarzenski
  • David B. Senn
  • Steven F. DiMarco


Since systematic measurements of Louisiana continental-shelf waters were initiated in 1985, hypoxia (oxygen content <2 mg L−1) has increased considerably in an area termed the dead zone. Monitoring and modeling studies have concluded that the expansion of the Louisiana shelf dead zone is related to increased anthropogenically derived nutrient delivery from the Mississippi River drainage basin, physical and hydrographical changes of the Louisiana Shelf, and possibly coastal erosion of wetlands in southern Louisiana. In order to track the development and expansion of seasonal low-oxygen conditions on the Louisiana shelf prior to 1985, we used a specific low-oxygen foraminiferal faunal proxy, the PEB index, which has been shown statistically to represent the modern Louisiana hypoxia zone. We constructed a network of 13 PEB records with excess 210Pb-derived chronologies to establish the development of low-oxygen and hypoxic conditions over a large portion of the modern dead zone for the last 100 years. The PEB index record indicates that areas of low-oxygen bottom water began to appear in the early 1910s in isolated hotspots near the Mississippi Delta and rapidly expanded across the entire Louisiana shelf beginning in the 1950s. Since ~1950, the percentage of PEB species has steadily increased over a large portion of the modern dead zone. By 1960, subsurface low-oxygen conditions were occurring seasonally over a large part of the geographic area now known as the dead zone. The long-term trends in the PEB index are consistent with the 20th-century observational and proxy data for low oxygen and hypoxia.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa E. Osterman
    • 1
  • Richard Z. Poore
    • 1
  • Peter W. Swarzenski
    • 2
  • David B. Senn
    • 3
  • Steven F. DiMarco
    • 4
  1. 1.U.S. Geological SurveySt. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey, Pacific Science CenterSanta CruzUSA
  3. 3.Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and TechnologyKastanienbaumSwitzerland
  4. 4.Department of OceanographyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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