Wetlandscape Fractal Topography

Leonardo E. Bertassello, P. Suresh C. Rao, James W. Jawitz, Gianluca Botter, Phong V.V. Le, Praveen Kumar, Antoine F. Aubeneau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Natural wetlands are ecological, biogeochemical, and hydrological hot spots yet continue to disappear under human pressure. Their shapes and sizes control their hydroecological functions. We propose that elevation data can be used to delineate potential wetlands and that the (statistical) distributions of potential wetlands should be identical to the distributions of actual wetlands. We compare the shape and size distributions of wetlands reported in the National Wetland Inventory with those of potential wetlands identified using a topographic depression identification model. We estimated area and perimeter distributions as well as shoreline fractal dimension in six contrasting locations in the United States. Pareto distributions described the tails of these distributions, with similar slopes for both model and data. The shape of shorelines was also similar, and their fractal dimension clustered around D = 4/3, a pervasive value in nature. We also analyzed the entire wetland inventory data set for the conterminous United States (~20 million wetlands) for reference and found the statistics to be invariant across scales. Our results demonstrate that a simple topographic model can identify most reported wetlands as well as potential wetlands missing from the inventory. These findings could inform strategic surveys and the conservation of wetlandscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6983-6991
Number of pages9
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 28 2018


  • DEM analysis
  • fractal dimension
  • size distribution
  • topography
  • wetlandscape

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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