Natural Hazards

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 73–88 | Cite as

Pervasive wetland flooding in the glacial drift prairie of North Dakota (USA)

  • Paul E. Todhunter
  • Bradley C. Rundquist
Original Paper


This article describes a unique flood hazard, produced by the dramatic expansion of wetlands in Nelson County, located within the North American Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota, USA. There has been an unprecedented increase in the number, average size, and permanence of prairie wetlands, and a significant increase in the size of a closed lake (Stump Lake) due to a decade-long wet spell that began in 1993 following a prolonged drying trend. Base-line land cover information from the 1992 USGS National Land Cover Characterization dataset, and a Landsat TM scene acquired 9 July 2001 are used to assess the growth of the closed lake and wetland pond surface areas, and to analyze the type and area of various land cover classes inundated between 1992 and 2001. The open water profile in Nelson County changed from one marked by relatively comparable coverage of closed lake and wetland pond areas in 1992, to one in which wetland open water accounted for the vast majority of total open water in 2001. The bulk of the wetland pond area expansion occurred by displacing existing wetland vegetation and agricultural cropland. Producers responded to the flood hazard by filing Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC) claims and enrolling cropland in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a federal land retirement program. Land taken out of agricultural production has had an enormous impact upon the agricultural sector that forms the economic base of the rural economy. In 2001 the land taken out of production due to CRP enrollment and preventive planting claims represented nearly 42% of Nelson County’s 205.2 K ha base agricultural land. The patterns obtained from this detailed study of Nelson County are likely to be the representative of the more publicized flood disaster occurring within the Devils Lake Basin of North Dakota.


Wetland flooding Closed lakes Flood hazard Glacial drift prairie Remote sensing Land use/land cover change 



This research was funded by a Quick Response Research grant from the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of North DakotaGrand ForksUSA

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