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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lincoln, Nebraska » Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #308843

Research Project: Improving bioenergy and forage plants and production systems for the central U.S.

Location: Wheat, Sorghum and Forage Research

Title: Reducing hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico – an alternative approach

Author
item PORTER, PAM - University Of Wisconsin
item Mitchell, Robert - Rob
item MOORE, KENNETH - Iowa State University

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/20/2015
Publication Date: 5/8/2015
Publication URL: http://www.jswconline.org/content/70/3/63A.full.pdf+html
Citation: Porter, P., Mitchell, R., Moore, K.J. 2015. Reducing hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico – an alternative approach. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. 70(3):63A-68A. 2015.

Interpretive Summary: The hypoxic or ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico is a high-priority national issue. Forty years after passing the Clean Water Act industrial pollution has been significantly reduced, but nitrogen and phosphorus still flow into the Mississippi River and are deposited into the Gulf of Mexico. Nine Midwest states contribute about 75% of the nutrients entering the Gulf. Illinois, Iowa and Indiana together contribute nearly 40% of the nitrate and more than 30% of the phosphorus. About 90% of the nitrates come from farming. Establishing perennial grasses on the agricultural landscape in strategic locations could be used to sculpt the landscape to dramatically reduce nutrient pollution while enhancing other ecosystem services. Strategically planting perennial prairie grass strips could be an effective strategy to remove nutrients while still farming a majority of the field. These perennial grasses could be used for biofuel production and may provide the fastest and most feasible way to help reduce nutrient flow into the Gulf of Mexico while providing renewable transportation fuels.

Technical Abstract: Hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico is a high-priority national issue. Agricultural nonpoint source pollution is the greatest source of water pollution today and its consequences are particularly evident in the Gulf of Mexico. For example, Illinois, Iowa and Indiana together contribute nearly 30% of the phosphorus and 40% of the nitrate, with about 90% of all nitrates coming from cropland. The constant influx of nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed has resulted in a significant hypoxic, or “dead zone,” the second largest in the world. The majority of these nutrients come from agricultural activities in the upper Midwest. This area, originally tallgrass prairie, is now known as the nation’s Corn Belt. Strategically reestablishing perennial grasses on the agricultural landscape can dramatically reduce nutrient pollution while enhancing other ecosystem services. Coupling these environmental benefits with perennial grass-based biofuels may provide the fastest and most feasible way to help reduce nutrient flow into the Gulf of Mexico while providing renewable transportation fuels.