In new research, underwater robots have revealed that the Gulf of Oman has the largest ocean dead zone in the world. Covering an area larger than the size of Scotland, the zone is likely exacerbated by both climate change and runoff from land and threatens the fishing industry in the region.
Dr. Bastien Queste, who led the research, published this week in Geophysical Research Letter said, “Our research shows that the situation is actually worse than feared – and that the area of dead zone is vast and growing. The ocean is suffocating.”
“Of course all fish, marine plants and other animals need oxygen, so they can’t survive there,” Dr. Queste continued. “It’s a real environmental problem, with dire consequences for humans too who rely on the oceans for food and employment.
The findings that there is a deadzone in the Gulf of Oman is not a surprise as it has been known there already is one, but the astonishing finding is the extent of the space that the deadzone covers. The region has been very difficult to study due to a variety of things including geopolitical instability and piracy has prevented research ships from conducting any work in the gulf in the last 50 years.
Researchers knew that they needed to study the area and this led them to make the decision to use underwater robots known as Seagliders. The robots were sent to collect data in all depths including down to 3,280 feet for a full eight months, sending data via satellite.
The findings revealed that the dead zone sits between 650 to 2,620 feet beneath the surface. The amount of space it covered is much larger than researchers thought it could possibly be as the findings revealed that it is the largest and thickest dead zone in the world and is growing.
Coastal regions are being suffocated by agricultural runoff triggering biochemical cycles that draw away vast reserves of oxygen, essentially suffocating our oceans. The researchers note how when oxygen is absent, it impacts how nitrogen moves through the water, too. This has a negative effect on plants, but can also lead to the production of nitrous oxide, which is roughly 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Predictions show that over the next century, this zone is expected to grow. This means that the fishing industry needs to pay serious attention and change their management practices to maintain sustainability in the region now.