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Drained Wetlands: Disappearance of a Treasure: Cycle C

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1). Significant amounts of wetlands have been drained in the last two centuries. Draining wetlands makes land available for farming and building.

2). Wetlands are important ecosystems. They have unique species some of which become endangered when wetlands are drained.

3). Lack of wetlands has lead to water quality problems. Drained wetlands lead to non-point source pollution, i.e. sediment and nutrients in streams. This negatively affects aquatic species habitat.

4). Wetlands were viewed as an environmental hazard that need to be drained to improve the landscape. Mosquitoes associated with wetlands can lead to illnesses such as malaria.

5). Cutting down a forest of a wetland reduces evapotranspirtation potentially leading to warming of the area.

6). Wetlands can produce methane through the decomposition of organic matter by bacteria and are the most significant natural source worldwide.

7). Wetland soils contain significant amounts of organic matter. Wetlands can produce methane through the decomposition of organic matter by bacteria and are the most significant natural source worldwide. Deforestation of wetlands can lead to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

8). Wetlands can be drained by ditches and underground tiles. Draining wetlands can lead to flooding because there is more moisture available for runoff.

9). In the 1800's, wetlands were viewed as sources of disease.


Scenario: Since the 1600's, it is estimated that over half of the area of wetlands, over 100 million acres, have been drained from the lower 48 states of the United States. Wetlands are areas where the saturation of the soil is the dominant feature in the formation of soils and the ecosystem. Prior to the 1900's, wetlands were viewed as unusable land that needed to be developed. Wetlands bred mosquitoes that spread disease such as Malaria. They smelled and were impassable to travel.

There are many different kinds of wetlands. There are forested wetlands, prairie wetlands, mangrove swamps, tidal wetlands, bogs, fens, etc. Coastal wetlands protect the coast from hurricanes like the ones around the Gulf of Mexico.

All states have seen a reduction in wetlands. Ohio and California have had the greatest loss of wetlands. It is estimated that Ohio has lost 90% and California has lost 91% of their wetlands. Much of the wetlands were drained for agricultural use as the rich soils are very fertile. The Great Black Swamp that stretches from Ohio to Michigan and Indiana was one of the largest wetlands in the United States before it was drained to develop agricultural fields. The Great Black Swamp was part of Lake Erie as the glaciers receded from the area over 10,000 years ago. There are many stories of the difficulties the Great Black Swamp created due to its size. Now, the area is very fertile agricultural land with heavy, clay or silty soils. The landscape of the area that included the Great Black Swamp was a forested wetland prior to settlement.

The silty-clay soils that were laid down by the post-glacial Lake Erie drain very poorly. The Black Swamp was drained in the late 1800's with a series of drainage ditches. In the 1930's, clay tile were put into the fields to drain the excess water. More recently plastic tubes with perforations are used to drain the fields. They are put in the field about three feet below the surface.

The area of the Great Black Swamp is drained by the Maumee River. Conversion of the swamp to agricultural fields has lead to non-point source pollution in the basin. The silty-clay is very fine. Once it enters the water system, it makes its way all of the way to Lake Erie.

Conserving the remaining wetlands has become important due to the rapidly declining loss. Wetlands are now protected under Section 404 for the Clean Water Act. It states that there will be no net loss of wetlands. In an attempt to stem the destruction of wetlands, the federal government authorized the formation of the National Wetlands Inventory to assist with decision making in regards to wetlands.

The majority of wetlands in the United States have been drained or destroyed. Laws have been passed to protect wetlands from further damage and degradation. What are the potential impacts of converting significant areas of the Great Black Swamp back to wetlands? How will this affect the balance of the region?


Authors: Kevin Czajkowski, University of Toledo

Mikell Lynne Hedley, University of Toledo



Date: 4/6/2010


Scenario Images

Forested Wetland
Image of a forested wetlands in Michigan in the Great Black Swamp area.

Percentage of Wetlands Average Lost, 1780's-1980's

Historic Marker for the Great Black Swamp
Historic marker for the Great Black Swamp describing the area.

Black Swamp Extent
Extent of the Great Black Swamp in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

Erosion from a Farm Field
An ephemeral gully eroding soil from a drained farm field adding sediment to the waterways.

Rolls of Plastic Tile Drain
Farmers put in plastic tubing (yellow) called tile drains about 3 feet (one meter) below the surface of the field to drain water off of the fields into nearby ditches.

Satellite image of Lake Erie
This MODIS satellite image shows a sediment plume going into Lake Erie on the western end from runoff from the Maumee River. The Maume River prior to draining of the swamp is said to have been free from sediment. Now, the river is known as the Muddy Maumee because of its chocolate milk color.



  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Systems, order, and organization
      • Form and function
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Organisms and environments
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Abilities to distinguish between natural objects and objects made by humans
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Personal health
        • Changes in environments
        • Science and technology in local challenges
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Populations and ecosystems
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Populations, resources, and environments
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
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      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Interactions of energy and matter
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Matter, energy, and organization in living systems
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Energy in the earth system
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Personal health
        • Natural resources
        • Environmental quality
  • Geography
    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      The identities and lives of individuals and people are rooted in particular places and in those human constructs called regions. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
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Individual Assignment
Classroom Application Cycle

This cycle you will develop cooperative activities that engage your students in understanding Earth as a system through analyzing the causes and effects of the event in this module. You also have the option of choosing a Local Event as the focus of your application. Use the resources listed below to develop your ideas. Submit your ideas for your teammates to rate and for your instructor to grade.



  • Review the Individual Classroom Application and Rubric.
  • Create or adapt activities to help your students develop the concepts you have explored in this module. You may choose to do a Local Event Analysis for extra credit this cycle and then base your Classroom Application on it. If you choose to do a local event analysis and then also develop it for your classroom application, you can satisfy this cycle's requirements and receive extra credit.
  • After submitting your own classroom application to the course discussion space, recruit a classmate to rate and make comments on your classroom application. Refer to the Classroom Application Goal and Rubric.

Upload to ESSEA your classroom application with a description of its relevance to students, connection to the curriculum, instructional strategy and assessment methods. Include a reflection on what and how you have learned about Earth System Science and this event as a result of this module. Complete the rubric.
Deadline: Tuesday, April 11 2017 11:59 PM (Eastern Time)
Upload Assignments

Assessment is unavailable

Ducks Unlimited Eductor's Website (Cycle C)
This website has two lesson plans for 4-6 grade, two for 7-8 and two for 9-12. The lessons will help students understand wetlands as an ecosystem.

Educational Materials on Wetlands from Kennesaw State University (Cycle C)
This website has a myriad of educational websites on wetlands. There are lesson plans and activities for students.

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