Nancy Rabalais, a scientist at Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium in Chauvin, has won a Heinz Award, an unrestricted cash prize of $100,000 for her pioneering research of severe oxygen depletion in the Gulf of Mexico and efforts to reduce water pollution through education and public policy.

The Heinz Family Foundation describes Rabalais as “the driving force behind identifying and characterizing the dynamics of the low oxygen area or “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico — the largest dead zone affecting the United States and second largest worldwide.”

Dead zones can affect the health of regional economies and coastal environments, according to the foundation. Rabalais’ work is key to restoring oceans so that both marine and human life can thrive.

In 2000, she led a scientific assessment of the dead zone, connecting it to nutrient runoff originating from the vast farming areas of the Mississippi watershed. Rabalais is also addressing the impacts of the 2010 BP oil spill on the Gulf’s ecosystems. Her work was featured in the 2010 public television documentary Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story.