Underwater robots exploring off the coast of Oman made a devastating discovery this week: the largest dead zone in the world, covering at least the size of Scotland and possibly more. While scientists already knew that there was a dead zone in the Gulf of Oman, they had no idea just how bad it was–until now.

Map showing the Gulf of Oman

Scientists from the University of East Anglia and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos University launched undersea robots to explore the dead zone, and they published their findings in Geophysical Research Letters. “Our research shows that the situation is actually worse than feared – and that the area of dead zone is vast and growing,” said Dr Bastien Queste, who led the research. “The ocean is suffocating.”

Related: Report: meat industry responsible for largest-ever ‘dead zone’ in Gulf of Mexico

A dead zone is a place where oxygen is depleted because of climate change and/or chemical run-off from land. Sea life requires oxygen to live, and so, in these areas, nothing can survive. “It’s a real environmental problem, with dire consequences for humans, too, who rely on the oceans for food and employment,” said Queste.

Robots ventured 1,000 meters underwater in the Gulf of Oman and spent eight months gathering data. The robots learned that the dead zone exists between a depth of 200 and 800 meters, occupies a zone larger than Scotland, and is continuing to grow. Unless we address the problem, it could have huge consequences for life both in and out of the sea.

+ Geophysical Research Letters

Via IFLScience

Images via Google Maps and Deposit Photos