US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published by Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership.


The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) covers about 900,000 km2 (347,500 mi2), which is approximately a fourth of the area in the Plains CO2 Reduction (PCOR) Partnership region. Specifically, the PPR covers portions of Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota in the United States and Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in Canada. Formed largely by glacial events, this region historically was dominated by grasslands interspersed with shallow palustrine wetlands.
Prior to European settlement, this region may have supported more than 20 million ha (49 million acres) of wetlands, making it the largest wetland complex in North America. However, fertile soils in this region resulted in extensive loss of native wetlands as cultivated agriculture became the dominant land use. With cultivation through agricultural practices resulting in oxidation of organic matter, the soil organic carbon (SOC) in wetlands was depleted.
Recent work by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Ducks Unlimited Canada scientists for the PCOR Partnership demonstrated that restoration of previously farmed wetlands results in the rapid replenishment of SOC lost to cultivation at an average rate of 3 Mg ha-1 yr-1 (1.34 tons acre-1 yr-1).
The findings that restored prairie wetlands are important carbon sinks provide a unique and previously overlooked opportunity to store atmospheric carbon (CO2-C) in the PCOR Partnership region. The overall goal of this study was to develop a database to estimate the regional potential to store atmospheric carbon by restoring previously farmed wetlands. Additional topics discussed in this report include other forms of potential carbon storage processes and greenhouse gas (GHG) offsets derived from restored wetlands.