The hypoxia zone this summer in the Gulf of Mexico is significantly smaller than expected and is the fourth smallest since measurements began in 1985, according to a new report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This year’s hypoxia zone, which was observed in late July by NOAA supported scientists, covered just over 2,700 square miles in the Gulf. That was less than half of the 5,780 square miles that was forecast and far less than the 8,776 square-mile zone recorded in 2017.

The smaller-than-expected hypoxia zone in 2018 is a clear indication that weather plays a big role in a large-scale area like the Gulf, said Rick Robinson, environmental policy advisor for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. Leaders of the survey mission noted that persistent winds from the west and northwest helped to move the hypoxia area and caused it to mix with more oxygen-rich water.

The report also shows the value of science-based, farmer-led programs, like the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, which are designed to reduce nutrient loss from both point and non-point sources, Robinson said. 

“While more work lies ahead, Iowa farmers have accepted the challenge to make additional conservation progress,” he said. “The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy plots the course for this outcome. We are already documenting the conservation practices and structures necessary for long-term water quality improvements at these large scales, such as the Gulf.”