Risk of Permanent Coastal Dead Zones in the Tropical Indian Ocean

2018 Faculty Research Award

Award Period: 2018-2020

This graphic illustrates the natural and anthropogenic processes that determine O2 levels and coastal dead zones in the Indian Ocean.

In the tropical Indian Ocean, the natural oxygen minimum zone (OMZ), combined with global warming and agricultural runoff, triggers coastal “dead zones” in which near-zero levels of oxygen (O2) suffocate marine ecosystems and devastate local fisheries. Laure Resplandy, assistant professor of geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute, will explore how natural processes precondition the Indian Ocean to very low coastal O2levels; quantify the reinforcing role of anthropogenic activities such as river loadings; and evaluate the future risk of coastal dead zones in the region. Currently, uncertainties in the processes that create dead zones strongly limit scientists’ ability to predict them and anticipate their impacts. This project will be the first to incorporate physical and biological processes at both local and global scales in order to understand and constrain the occurrence of coastal dead zones. Resplandy will combine ship- and float-based data from the Indian Ocean with the state-of-the-art GFDL-MOM6 global ocean model at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory.

Educational Impacts

Resplandy will host one to two PEI interns each summer and the project will serve as a framework for junior or senior independent work. In summer 2017, PEI interns Katharine Xiao ’20 and Stephen Carlson ’19 participated in preliminary analysis for this project. Students will work closely with Resplandy and Abigale Wyatt, a graduate student in Resplandy’s group, to help design model experiments and analyze and interpret results. Those students involved in the project will have the opportunity to present their results at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting.

Undergraduates in Resplandy’s course, “Modeling the Earth System: and Assessing Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change,” will have the opportunity to do their independent work on the project. Resplandy also will develop labs on O2 and climate for the spring introductory course “Ocean, Atmosphere and Climate.”

Participating Department

Collaborating Institutions


Assistant Professor of Geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute

Graduate Students

  • Abigale Wyatt (GEO)

Undergraduate Students

  • Katharine Xiao ’20
  • Stephen Carlson ’19