OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Troubled waters: A fish-eye view of dead zones and oil spills

11/01/2010

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Just like oil spills, “dead zones” make news. And they seem to be spreading: Chesapeake Bay, the Oregon coast, Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico. Surprisingly, scientists know little about who wins and who loses when oxygen concentrations drop to near-zero in ocean waters.

At Science Pub Corvallis on Nov. 8, Steve Brandt, director of the Oregon Sea Grant program, will discuss findings from six seasons of subsurface exploration in the low-oxygen waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico. And he’ll share what was different about this year’s cruise, which began after the United States’ largest recorded oil well blow-out was capped in July.

“Recently there has been an alarming increase, in the spatial and temporal extent of low-oxygen conditions in estuarine and coastal waters,” said Brandt. “We call them ‘dead zones’ in the media because we presume there are drastic impacts on living resources such as shrimp and fish.”

In his talk, Brandt will show how low-oxygen conditions, which scientists call “hypoxia,” can affect habitat quality, food webs and growth rates. Some fish, he added, may actually benefit from these conditions.

Science Pub Corvallis begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 2nd St. in downtown Corvallis. It is free and open to the public. Sponsors include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.