Forecast predicts biggest Gulf dead zone ever

By CAIN BURDEAU | June 14, 2011 | 6:44 PM EDT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — This year's "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to be the largest in history: about the size of Lake Erie.

Scientists predict the annual expanse of low-oxygen water will be larger because of this spring's massive flooding of the Mississippi River bringing more farm and urban runoff from the Heartland.

Federal and university scientists predict this year's zone will be between 8,500 square miles and about 9,400 square miles. The actual size of the dead zone will be measured over the summer.

The largest recorded dead zone was found in 2002 when 8,400 square miles of the Gulf was found to lacking sufficient oxygen for most marine life.