The Dead Zone
Ecology and Oceanography in the Gulf of Mexico
Corning School of Ocean Studies
Maine Maritime Academy
This interrupted case study focuses on the seasonal hypoxic area in the Gulf of Mexico known as the Dead Zone. It follows Sue, a college student, whose father is a commercial fisherman affected by the lack of fish in his usual fishing grounds in the summer. In her quest to determine why the fish disappear, Sue learns about both the biological and physical forces that produce, maintain, and eventually dissipate the hypoxic zone. The case introduces students to the marine food web, the aquatic microbial loop, the impact of exogenous nutrients, and the physical forces that affect oxygen content and water stratification. It could be used in introductory biology or ecology courses or in an oceanography course.
- Understand the close integration of biological and physical influences on an aquatic environment and the outcome when nutrient inputs are elevated.
- Understand the structure of an aquatic food web.
- Understand the role of the microbial loop.
- Understand the role of salinity and temperature in creating water column density structure.
- Understand how the interaction between biological processes and water column structure can cause hypoxia.
- Read and interpret graphical data.
KeywordsGulf of Mexico; microbial loop; dissolved oxygen; aquatic hypoxia; nutrients; fertilizer; algae; marine food web; phytoplankton; nitrogen; water column; seawater; salinity
Topical AreasPolicy issues
Educational LevelUndergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Type / MethodsInterrupted, Demonstration
Subject HeadingsEcology | Environmental Science | Earth Science | Marine Science / Oceanography | Botany / Plant Science |
Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering.
Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.