By Dan Shapley
Every summer a murderer lurks miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico, and teams of scientists are meeting this week to fight against their arch nemesis, the "dead zone." In truth, the murderer is already well known. Excess nutrients from the nation's farming heartland flow into the Mississippi, and out into the Gulf of Mexico, where they feed an unnatural bloom of algae. As the bloom lives and dies, it consumes vast quantities of oxygen -- so much that a vast expanse of water is robbed of the life-sustaining gas, and so wildlife predictably moves elsewhere or succumbs. Worse, five years after a federal effort to investigate, diagnose and reduce the dead zone, it is still growing. The recent boom in corn production -- inspired by new subsidies to boost production of the gas alternative, ethanol -- has led to even more use of fertilizers, which doesn't bode well for the Gulf, according to a story in the June 10 Times-Picayune.