'Dead Zone' kills billions of mussels

Apr 11, 2006

A 2001 "dead zone" that formed in Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay reportedly killed billions of mussels and destroyed at least one reef.

The so-called dead zones are caused by hypoxia, or oxygen depletion, which literally suffocates sea life. While some evidence of the "dead zone" could be seen on the bay's surface, Brown University ecologists went underwater and discovered an estimated 4.5 billion mussels -- about 80 percent of the reefs' population -- died in the event, which also damaged nine other reefs.

"What we saw was a local extinction," said Andrew Altieri, a co-author of the report. "The mussel population was devastated. If the magnitude of this die-off was visible from the surface, there would've been public alarm."

Researchers said hypoxia can start when fertilizer or sewage spills into coastal waters, carrying nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients. Often fueled by high summer temperatures, the nutrients produce algae blooms. When the alga dies, it sinks to the bottom, where it is consumed by bacteria -- along with dissolved oxygen. That is what happened in Narragansett.

The study, conducted with Associate Professor Jon Witman, was published in the journal Ecology and also appears online.

Copyright 2006 by United Press International

Explore further: Dawn spirals closer to Ceres, returns a new view

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Dawn spirals closer to Ceres, returns a new view

11 hours ago

A new view of Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 23, shows finer detail is becoming visible on the dwarf planet. The spacecraft snapped the image at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) ...

NASA telescopes set limits on space-time quantum 'foam'

17 hours ago

A team of scientists has used X-ray and gamma-ray observations of some of the most distant objects in the universe to better understand the nature of space and time. Their results set limits on the quantum ...

Shining message about the end of the Dark Ages

19 hours ago

An international team, including researchers from the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University (ZAH), has discovered three "cosmic Methusalems" from the earliest years of the universe. These unusual stars are about 13 ...

The kinematics of merging galaxies

19 hours ago

The unprecedented sensitivity of space telescopes has powered a revolution over the past decade in our understanding of galaxies in the young universe during its first billion years of existence. These primitive ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.