As some 250 corn growers from more than 20 states are convening in our fair city of Washington, DC this week for the biannual Corn Congress, they might be getting some unwelcome news.
Scientists report that this year's dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be the largest on record, due in large part to the rise in corn production.
The dead zone is a lifeless stretch of water that could cover a predicted 8,800 square miles this summer. That's an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey -- sans oxygen.
As the demand for corn-based ethanol rises, so do the nitrogen levels in the soil and groundwater. Runoff water flows into rivers and into the Gulf, stimulating an overgrowth of algae. When the algae die, they sink to the bottom and decompose, depleting oxygen levels in the water and choking out marine life.
It's just another reminder of the connection between land and sea.