'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: China to send orbiter to moon and back

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researcher reports on urban "heat islands"

Sep 26, 2014

With longer and hotter heat waves in the offing, a Harvard professor has put the urban "heat island" under the microscope, finding smaller heat islands—mainly occupied by the poor—within city limits, ...

Recommended for you

China to send orbiter to moon and back

2 hours ago

China will launch its latest lunar orbiter in the coming days, state media said Wednesday, in its first attempt to send a spacecraft around the moon and back to Earth.

NASA Webb's heart survives deep freeze test

12 hours ago

After 116 days of being subjected to extremely frigid temperatures like that in space, the heart of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) and its sensitive instruments, ...

Cosmic rays threaten future deep-space astronaut missions

16 hours ago

Crewed missions to Mars remain an essential goal for NASA, but scientists are only now beginning to understand and characterize the radiation hazards that could make such ventures risky, concludes a new paper ...

Big black holes can block new stars

19 hours ago

Massive black holes spewing out radio-frequency-emitting particles at near-light speed can block formation of new stars in aging galaxies, a study has found.

User comments : 0