Predicted Effects of Climate Change on Northern Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia

  • John C. Lehrter
  • Dong S. Ko
  • Lisa L. Lowe
  • Bradley Penta


We describe the application of a coastal ocean ecosystem model to assess the effect of a future climate scenario of plus (+) 3 °C air temperature and + 10% river discharge on hypoxia (O2 < 63 mmol m−3) in the northern Gulf of Mexico. We applied the model to the Louisiana shelf as influenced by the runoff from the Mississippi River basin. The net effect of the future climate scenario was a mean increase in water temperature of 1.1 °C and a decrease in salinity of 0.09 for the region of the shelf where hypoxia typically occurs (<50 m depth). These changes increased the strength of water column stratification at the pycnocline and increased phytoplankton biomass. In the future scenario, the hypoxic area was only 1% larger than the present. A more significant effect was in the duration and extent of severe hypoxic areas. Severe hypoxic areas, defined as model cells having hypoxia for more than 60 days in the year, had a mean increase in hypoxia duration of 9.5 days (a 10% increase). The severely hypoxic area also increased by 1,130 km2 (an 8% increase) in the future scenario. The results confirm that a warmer and wetter future climate will, on average, worsen the extent and duration of hypoxia in this system. Thus, it is probable that long-term Mississippi River nutrient management for hypoxia will need to be adapted for climate change.


Hypoxia Climate change Nutrients Northern Gulf of Mexico Louisiana shelf Mississippi River Coastal general ecosystem model (CGEM) 



We thank Brandon Jarvis, David Beddick, Louis Olszyk, and Barry Herchenroder for assistance with model inputs and code development. James Pauer and Steve Jordan provided helpful reviews on earlier drafts. We thank the two anonymous reviewers and the editors for their comments and suggestions to improve this manuscript. This work was supported by the USEPA Office of Research and Development. The study was reviewed and approved for publication by the USEPA National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory; however, the contents are solely the views of the authors. Use of trade names of commercial products does not constitute endorsement by the USEPA.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • John C. Lehrter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Dong S. Ko
    • 3
  • Lisa L. Lowe
    • 4
  • Bradley Penta
    • 3
  1. 1.Gulf Ecology DivisionUS EPA, Office of Research and Development, National Health and Environmental Effects LaboratoryGulf BreezeUSA
  2. 2.University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea LabDauphin IslandUSA
  3. 3.Naval Research Laboratory, Oceanography DivisionStennis Space CenterBay St. LouisUSA
  4. 4.Leidos, Research Triangle ParkDurhamUSA

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