The global abundance and size distribution of lakes, ponds, and impoundments

J. A. Downing*, Y. T. Prairie, J. J. Cole, Carlos Duarte, L. J. Tranvik, R. G. Striegl, W. H. McDowell, P. Kortelainen, N. F. Caraco, J. M. Melack, J. J. Middelburg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1353 Scopus citations


One of the major impediments to the integration of lentic ecosystems into global environmental analyses has been fragmentary data on the extent and size distribution of lakes, ponds, and impoundments. We use new data sources, enhanced spatial resolution, and new analytical approaches to provide new estimates of the global abundance of surface-water bodies. A global model based on the Pareto distribution shows that the global extent of natural lakes is twice as large as previously known (304 million lakes; 4.2 million km 2 in area) and is dominated in area by millions of water bodies smaller than 1 km 2 . Similar analyses of impoundments based on inventories of large, engineered dams show that impounded waters cover approximately 0.26 million km 2 . However, construction of low-tech farm impoundments is estimated to be between 0.1 % and 6% of farm area worldwide, dependent upon precipitation, and represents >77,000 km 2 globally, at present. Overall, about 4.6 million km 2 of the earth's continental "land" surface (>3%) is covered by water. These analyses underscore the importance of explicitly considering lakes, ponds, and impoundments, especially small ones, in global analyses of rates and processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2388-2397
Number of pages10
JournalLimnology and Oceanography
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science


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