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System Modeling and Sensitivity Analysis of the Iowa Food-Water-Energy Nexus

V. Raul1, L. Leifsson1*, and A. Kaleita2

  1. Department of Aerospace Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA
  2. Departments of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA

*Corresponding author. Tel.: (515) 294-6549; fax: (515) 294-3262. E-mail address: (L. Leifsson).


The state of Iowa has long been recognized as a significant contributor of nitrogen loads to the Mississippi river basin. The nitrogen loads are mainly in the form of nitrates arising from high yield agriculture and animal agriculture. With excessive water flowing through the water system of Iowa, the surplus nitrogen in the soil gets carried into the Mississippi river basin and ultimately to the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in the generation of a hypoxic zone having a detrimental impact on the environment. Iowa is a leading producer of corn, soybean, animal products, and ethanol; hence, agriculture and animal agriculture are well rooted in its economy. With increasing ethanol demands, high yield agricultural practices, growing animal agriculture, and a connected economy, there is a need to understand the interdependencies of the Iowa food-energy-water (IFEW) nexus. In this work, a model of the IFEW system interdependencies is proposed and used as the basis for a computational system model, which can be used to guide decision-makers for improved policy formation to mitigate adverse impacts of the nitrogen export on the environment and economy. Global sensitivity analysis of the proposed IFEW system model reveals that the commercial nitrogen application rate for corn and corn yield are the critical parameters affecting nitrogen surplus in soil.

Keywords: food-energy-water nexus, nitrogen export, hypoxic zone, interdependencies, system modeling, sensitivity analysis.

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