NSF Funding Advances Iowa State Team’s Research on Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia

Catherine Kling; ckling@iastate.edu
Philip Gassman; pwgassma@iastate.edu
Sandy Clarke; sclarke@iastate.edu

September 22, 2010

Researchers at Iowa State University and partner institutions will address Northern Gulf of Mexico hypoxia and its causes with $1.3 million in funding from the National Science Foundation.

Principal investigator Catherine Kling, an economics professor and head of Resource and Environmental Policy at the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University, heads up the team of economists, research agricultural engineers and marine biologists that will further measure and model the causes and consequences of the seasonal hypoxic (dead) zone. The zone continues to be large, triple the size targeted as a goal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf Hypoxia Task Force.

The project aims to produce the first complete modeling system to trace agricultural land-use decisions to downstream water quality effects in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Previous scientific assessment has suggested that nitrogen and phosphorous loadings from upstream river basins contribute significantly to the problem.

“We need integrated models with a rich amount of data to study how the decisions of the half million farmers in the watersheds affect the health of the Gulf ecosystem,” said Kling. “Through this grant, we hope both to improve our scientific tools and to get a better understanding of how changing conservation practices on the landscape will change the downstream conditions.”

Gulf specialists at Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium will join researchers at Iowa State, the University of Washington, North Carolina A&T State University, and the Blackland Research and Extension Center and Spatial Sciences Laboratory at Texas A&M University who conduct the watershed modeling and analyze the results.

The project proposal highlights the complex natural and human dynamics of the problem. In order to identify the most cost-effective placement of conservation practices in the Upper Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee basins, the team will scrutinize both market-based and policy-based factors in farmers’ field management decisions.

A unique aspect of this project, learning how best to “scale up” the impact of individual decisions on a single farm field, will improve the modeling system’s accuracy as a tool for designing better policy to improve water conditions both in the watersheds and in the Gulf.

The National Science Foundation awarded total funding of $1,373,369, including $655,289 to Iowa State’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development.