Composite Wetland maps


Many maps of open water and wetlands have been developed based on three main methods: (i) compiling national and regional wetland surveys, (ii) identifying inundated areas via satellite imagery and (iii) delineating wetlands as shallow water table areas based on groundwater modeling. However, the resulting global wetland extents vary from 3 % to 21 % of the land surface area because of inconsistencies in wetland definitions and limitations in observation or modeling systems. To reconcile these differences, we propose composite wetland (CW) maps, combining two classes of wetlands: (1) regularly flooded wetlands (RFWs) obtained by overlapping selected open-water and inundation datasets; and (2) groundwater-driven wetlands (GDWs) derived from groundwater modeling (either direct or simplified using several variants of the topographic index). Wetlands are statically defined as areas with persistent near-saturated soil surfaces because of regular flooding or shallow groundwater, disregarding most human alterations (potential wetlands). Seven CW maps were generated at 15 arcsec resolution (ca. 500 m at the Equator) using geographic information system (GIS) tools and by combining one RFW and different GDW maps. To validate this approach, these CW maps were compared with existing wetland datasets at the global and regional scales. The spatial patterns were decently captured, but the wetland extents were difficult to assess compared to the dispersion of the validation datasets. Compared with the only regional dataset encompassing both GDWs and RFWs, over France, the CW maps performed well and better than all other considered global wetland datasets.

Two CW maps, showing the best overall match with the available evaluation datasets, were eventually selected. These maps provided global wetland extents of 27.5 and 29 million km2, i.e., 21.1 % and 21.6 % of the global land area, which are among the highest values in the literature and are in line with recent estimates also recognizing the contribution of GDWs. This wetland class covers 15 % of the global land area compared with 9.7 % for RFW (with an overlap of ca. 3.4 %), including wetlands under canopy and/or cloud cover, leading to high wetland densities in the tropics and small scattered wetlands that cover less than 5 % of land but are highly important for hydrological and ecological functioning in temperate to arid areas. By distinguishing the RFWs and GDWs based globally on uniform principles, the proposed dataset might be useful for large-scale land surface modeling (hydrological, ecological and biogeochemical modeling) and environmental planning.

More details in:

Tootchi A, Jost A, Ducharne A (2019). Multi-source global wetland maps combining surface water imagery and groundwater constraints, Earth Syst. Sci. Data, 11, 189-220,

Data Access

The dataset consisting of the two selected CW maps and the contributing GDW and RFW maps is available from PANGAEA at  We ask you to cite the above reference if you use the data.

Available Data

Three global wetland maps at 15" resolution (~500 m at the Equator) are proposed under three formats (ArcGIS, TIFF, KMZ). They include: (1) regularly flooded wetlands (RFW), (2) composite wetland based on direct GW modelling (CW-WTD), (3) Composite wetland map based on topo-climate index (CW-TCI15%). In all of them, Antarctica is excluded and lakes are masked out using HydroLAKES.