Satellite data reveal how Sudd wetland dynamics are linked with globally-significant methane emissions

Andy Hardy*, Paul I Palmer, Gregory Oakes

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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Recent work has highlighted the large role of methane emissions from the Sudd wetland and surrounding ecosystems on the global atmospheric growth rate of methane since 2010. These emissions are driven by high rainfall over basin catchments linked with the positive phase of the Indian Ocean Dipole. We reconstruct flood inundation for the Sudd wetland over a 38-year period at a spatial resolution of 30 m using a new satellite Earth Observation (EO) wetland mapping tool. We reveal considerable changes in the wet season extent of the wetland, including an increase >300% since 2019 compared to the median 1984-2022 extent. We report major increases in flood extent within grassland-dominated floodplains outside of the area currently defined Sudd wetland region. These year-to-year changes in wetland extent are corroborated with total water storage anomalies inferred from satellite data (Pearson correlation R = 0.92), Lake Victoria levels (R = 0.73), and anomalies in reported annual mean global methane growth rates since 2009 (R = 0.88). Our analysis shows that flood water inundation is dominated by inundated vegetation and aquatic vegetation, accounting for an average of 40% and 50% of total extent, respectively, compared to open water that accounted for just 9% of inundation in a typical year. This is consistent with recent studies that report wetland methane emissions are focused on areas with inundated vegetation. Our findings also support recent studies that highlight the significant role of the Sudd wetland in driving anomalously large global atmospheric annual growth rates, 2020-2022. By capturing high resolution information on inundated vegetation, our EO wetland mapping tool has significant potential for improved wetland emission estimates of methane. Vascular plants common in the Sudd wetland, e.g. macrophytes including Phragmites Australis and Cyperus Papyrus, seem to play a key role in methane emissions and we recommend they should be the focus of future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number074044
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2023


  • wetland dynamics
  • satellite imaging
  • Google Earth Engine
  • Sudd wetlands
  • methane emissions
  • Landsat


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