The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the recipients of their ‘Genius Grants’ yesterday, and one of them is a scientist dedicated to studying the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Nancy Rabalais is a marine ecologist and the executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.
A ‘dead zone’ is an area of a body of water that has extremely low oxygen, which makes it difficult for the area to support any type of aquatic life. The Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone is the U.S.’s most notorious; in 2010, it was the size of New Jersey.
This dead zone is something that’s come up in the Ohio River Valley before, because states like Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio and Indiana are contributing to the dead zone by letting pollution from wastewater treatment plants and farms discharge into the Ohio River, which eventually makes its way down to the Gulf. In August, 2011, in an effort to stop contributing to the dead zone, environmental groups petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to set standards for pollutants like phosphorus and nitrogen (which right now, are regulated by the states). The petition was denied.
As a MacArthur Fellow, Rabalais gets $500,000 with no strings attached. She has said the money will come in handy for her research, at a time when federal support is harder to get, and plans to spend at least some of the funds on new equipment.