, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 215–227 | Cite as

Delineation and Quantification of Wetland Depressions in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota

  • Qiusheng WuEmail author
  • Charles R. Lane
Original Research


The Prairie Pothole Region of North America is characterized by numerous, small, wetland depressions that perform important ecological and hydrological functions. Recent studies have shown that total wetland area in the region is decreasing due to cumulative impacts related to natural and anthropogenic changes. The impact of wetland losses on landscape hydrology is an active area of research and management. Various spatially distributed hydrologic models have been developed to simulate effects of wetland depression storage on peak river flows, frequently using dated geospatial wetland inventories. We describe an innovative method for identifying wetland depressions and quantifying their nested hierarchical bathymetric/topographic structure using high-resolution light detection and ranging (LiDAR) data. This contour tree method allows identified wetland depressions to be quantified based on their dynamic filling-spilling-merging hydrological processes. In addition, wetland depression properties, such as surface area, maximum depth, mean depth, storage volume, etc., can be computed for each component of a depression as well as the compound depression. We successfully applied the proposed method to map wetland depressions in the Little Pipestem Creek watershed in North Dakota. The methods described in this study will provide more realistic and higher resolution data layers for hydrologic modeling and other studies requiring characterization of simple and complex wetland depressions, and help prioritize conservation planning efforts for wetland resources.


Wetland hydrology Topographic depressions Water storage LiDAR Prairie Pothole Region Geographically isolated wetland Non-adjacent wetland 



We are grateful to the State of North Dakota’s GIS Hub, which provided LiDAR data and aerial photographs to support this research. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers. Their comments and suggestions have been very helpful for improving the quality of this paper. This paper has been reviewed in accordance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s peer and administrative review policies and approved for publication. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use. Statements in this publication reflect the authors’ professional views and opinions and should not be construed to represent any determination or policy of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography, State University of New YorkBinghamton UniversityBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Office of Research and DevelopmentU.S. Environmental Protection AgencyCincinnatiUSA
  3. 3.CSS-Dynamac c/o U.S. Environmental Protection AgencyCincinnatiUSA

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