Flood pulsing in the Sudd Wetland: analysis of seasonal variations in inundation and evaporation in South Sudan

Located on the Bahr el Jebel in South Sudan, the Sudd is one of the largest floodplain wetlands in the world. Seasonal inundation drives the hydrologic, geomorphological, and ecological processes, and the annual flood pulse is essential to the functioning of the Sudd. Despite the importance of the flood pulse, various hydrological interventions are planned upstream of the Sudd to increase economic benefits and food security. These will not be without consequences, in particular for wetlands where the biological productivity, biodiversity, and human livelihoods are dependent on the flood pulse and both the costs and benefits need to be carefully evaluated. Many African countries still lack regional baseline information on the temporal extent, distribution, and characteristics of wetlands, making it hard to assess the consequences of development interventions. Because of political instability in Sudan and the inaccessible nature of the Sudd, recent measurements of flooding and seasonal dynamics are inadequate. Analyses of multitemporal and multisensor remote sensing datasets are presented in this paper, in order to investigate and characterize flood pulsing within the Sudd wetland over a 12-month period. Wetland area has been mapped along with dominant components of open water and flooded vegetation at five time periods over a single year. The total area of flooding (both rain and river fed) over the 12 months was 41 334 km2, with 9176 km2 of this constituting the permanent wetland. Mean annual total evaporation is shown to be higher and with narrower distribution of values from areas of open water (1718 mm) than from flooded vegetation (1641 mm). Although the exact figures require validation against ground-based measurements, the results highlight the relative differences in inundation patterns and evaporation across the Sudd.