In recent years, it has appeared that global warming is causing extreme environment change such as long droughts followed by intense rain and flooding periods. Though visible damage is clearly seen in destroyed homes and businesses, there is another vital problem threatening cities and towns. Much of the United States is covered in farms and crop land that has been fertilized and carries an abundant supply of chemicals to increase productivity. Flooding and highly developed watershed areas are causing excessive nitrogen levels in local water supplies. This causes dead areas of beneficial plant and animal life due to increased algae growth. Large quantities of algae deplete the oxygen levels and cause hypoxia.
Nitrogen stored in the soil flows freely into water sources when disrupted by large amounts of rain water. The irregular water patterns are further aided by the destruction of watershed areas near streams and rivers. These watersheds help to absorb nutrient run off and keep nitrogen levels in check. With such a large amount of land being utilized for growing crops, this is essential to safe, clean water. Recent studies have shown that nitrogen retention has dropped as much as 50% in wet years around urban areas.
The hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest in the world. This particular zone effects us all by destroying the fishing industry and causing higher food prices. Shrimp, oysters, and fish are all harvested from the Gulf of Mexico and in danger of the growing dead zone. Hurricanes further increase the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous throughout the Gulf.
As the climate further changes, this problem will only get worse. Careful urban planning and a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions is needed to curb this growing problem. Careful disposal of animal wastes and proper regulation of fertilizer runoff will have a great affect in reducing the amount of nitrogen flowing into our water ways. By implementing new technologies to protect our rivers, lakes, and oceans, we can stop this increase in poor water quality and being to protect our greatest natural resources for future generations.
More information on hypoxia and dead zones.