News and Press

All News

More Tweets

Freshwater Wetlands
Septic (ISDS/OWTS) Systems Permits
Septic (ISDS/OWTS) Licenses
All Other Water Permits
Underground Storage Tanks
Aboveground Storage Tank Registration
Stormwater Permitting Info
Air Pollution Control Preconstruction Permits
Air Pollution Control Operating Permits
Permitted Waste Transporters
Online Services
Boat Registration Renewal
Recreational Freshwater Fishing Licenses
Recreational Saltwater Fishing Licenses
Marine Fisheries License Renewals
Septic (OWTS) Permit Search After 1990
Septic (OWTS) Permit Search Before 1990
Wetlands Permit Search
Multi-Sector General Permit Search
Non-Contact Cooling Water Permit Search
Remediation General Permit Search
UST Registration Renewal
Hazardous Waste Transporter Permit Renewals
Medical Waste Generator Registration
Agriculture Product Permit Renewals
Other Resources
Request a File Review
Permit Application Center
Application Forms
Rules and Regulations

Hypoxia (Low Oxygen) and Anoxia (No Oxygen)

Oxygen is essential for life, but the supply in coastal waters around the world is decreasing - dropping more frequently, over larger spans of time and space. "Hypoxia" is a name for this condition when it turns critical - less than 2-3 milligrams of oxygen per liter of water. With "anoxia" there is none (0 mg/L oxygen).

The condition is critical because most sea life cannot tolerate it. Fish, crabs, shrimp, and shellfish that cannot flee become stressed or die with effects that ripple throughout the ecosystem. It becomes a "dead zone" that is hospitable only for anaerobic microbes that produce environmental problems of their own.

Many conditions contribute to hypoxia. Warm water (e.g., in the summer, in shallows, or near factory effluent) holds less oxygen than cold. Sheltered coves with weak winds and currents allow water to stratify, to form a persistent, low-oxygen band rather than to mix and refresh from top to bottom. In stagnant waters, hypoxia or anoxia is a natural condition, but it was rare in the Bay until humans significantly altered it.

Acute incidents are usually part of a chain reaction, beginning with an excess of nutrients in the watershed. Nitrogen comes from sewage treatment plant effluent and run-off of organic materials on fertilized grounds, or from bird and animal waste. Under certain conditions (usually as above) this over-enrichment feeds an algal bloom. The bloom creates shade, sinks, and then decomposes, drawing oxygen out of the water below. There is great demand but an inadequate fresh supply of oxygen. In the short term, the only cure is a change in the weather or the currents, enough to mix surface and subsurface, oxygenated and hypoxic waters. (See also "Harmful Algal Blooms") The long-term solution is to moderate the supply of nutrients to the watershed.

What should I do?
  • Check for updates and advisories from Bay Line (222-8888, May 15 to Oct. 15) and HEALTH
  • In the meantime, help prevent hypoxia by supporting efforts to improve water quality in the Bay. (See "Introduction to Narragansett Bay")
More information on-line