The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is caused by nitrogen and phosphorous runoff, most of which comes from farming. The major sources of this runoff are fertilizers, animal wastes, soil erosion, and sewage. So, the more farming we need to be doing, particularly of plants that need a lot of fertilizer and that contribute to soil erosion, the more of this runoff we will have and the larger the dead zone gets. The connection with biofuels, specifically ethanol, is that corn is a crop that requires a lot of fertilizer and causes lots of soil erosion. There are a lot of other elements to this discussion, however, such as general farming practices, meat consumption, etc.
A new study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, says the problem of the depletion of oxygen in the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico stands to get far worse if the U.S. follows through on its current federally-mandated efforts to increase annual biofuel production to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
Biofuels are made from corn most commonly. Corn in America is grown with a lot of artificial fertilizers that run off into the Mississippi River. Agricultural runoff provides the nitrates and phosphates that cause the algal blooms that create the dead zone. There is a connection, but it’s through several mediators.
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