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Scientists first noticed a dead zone off Newport in 2002 and traced it to a rare influx of cold water rich in nutrients and low in oxygen that had migrated from the Arctic.
Each year since then, they have returned in the summer, but these have been caused by unusually intense bursts of northerly winds that cause the ocean water to turn over, bringing nutrients up from the bottom and feeding an explosion of tiny organisms known as phytoplankton.
During calm periods, the phytoplankton die for lack of food and fall to the ocean bottom, where they are consumed by bacteria, which use up the oxygen.
The wind patterns responsible for the dead zones are consistent with what is expected with global warming: warmer temperatures on land strengthen a low pressure area that draws more air in from the cooler ocean, creating the winds that set up the upwelling, and driving the dead zone close to shore.