If you've ever seen the original Godzilla movie from 1954, you know that the heroic scientists deploy a weapon called the "oxygen destroyer" (pictured) that sucks all oxygen from the water and suffocates the Big G. Now it turns out that weapon isn't as ridiculous as you thought: In fact, scientists have identified countless "oxygen dead zones" in the oceans created rapidly by chemicals and plants that suck air out of the water. Once oxygen has been leeched from the water — usually close to shore — any ocean life larger than microbes is a goner. An article published in Science today has the details. According to the New York Times:
Scientists attribute dead zones to a process that begins when nitrogen from agricultural runoff and sewage stimulates the growth of photosynthetic plankton on the surface of coastal waters. As the organisms decay and sink to the bottom, they are decomposed by microbes that consume large amounts of oxygen. As oxygen levels drop, most animals that live at the bottom cannot survive. "The overwhelming response of the organisms in our coastal areas is to migrate or to die," [lead author Robert J.] Diaz said. "To adapt to low oxygen water, it has to be a part of your evolutionary history. It's not something you can develop in a 40- or 50-year time period."
About 400 coastal "dead zones" have been identified, and their combined area is comparable to the U.S. state of Oregon. Many are doubling in size every year. This is bad news for sea life, but even worse for human life. Most of the areas affected are in regions where people raise fish and lobsters in fisheries. Areas hit include the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea, where the times reports only "microbes" can live now. More recently, China and Norway's Kattegat Sea have grown dead zones, and some are appearing in the United States off the coast of South Carolina and the Pacific Northwest. At least we're safe from Godzilla, who wouldn't be able to swim to shore through the oxygen-destroyed waters. Oxygen-Starved Ocean 'Dead Zones' [NY Times via KSJ Tracker]