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Future impacts of climate change on inland Ramsar wetlands


The 1971 Ramsar Convention promotes wetland conservation worldwide, yet climate change impacts on wetland extent and associated biodiversity are unclear. Hydrological modelling and soil moisture estimates are used to quantify climate change-driven shifts in wetland area across 1,250 inland Ramsar sites. We estimate that net global wetland area expanded during 1980–2014, but 47% of sites experienced wetland loss. By 2100, a net area loss of at least 6,000 km2 (about 1%) is projected. The number of sites with area loss over 10% will increase by 19–65% under low emissions, 148–243% under high emissions and ~16% with global mean warming of 2 °C relative to 1.5 °C. Sites most vulnerable to shrinkage are located in the Mediterranean, Mexico, Central America and South Africa—all seasonal waterbird migration hotspots. Our findings highlight that climate mitigation is essential for future Ramsar wetlands conservation, in addition to the minimization of human disturbance.

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Fig. 1: Historical change in wetland area and SM across 1,250 inland Ramsar sites.
Fig. 2: Temporal changes in numbers of global inland Ramsar sites with >10% wetland loss/gain through the twenty-first century.
Fig. 3: Spatial distributions of change in wetland area across global inland Ramsar sites by 2100 and the uncertainties.
Fig. 4: Change in absolute wetland area across global inland Ramsar sites and five continents by 2100.
Fig. 5: Wetland loss and waterbird migration.

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Data availability

The shapefile data of the Ramsar inland sites are available from the Ramsar Sites Information Service ( and the World Database on Protected Areas ( The global gridded topographic index data are available from The CRU TS v.4.01 climate datasets are available from CRU ( The GLEAM v.3.2a data sets are available at The MSWEP v.2.1 datasets are available at The JRC surface water products are available at The RFW datasets are available from The GLDAS-Noah v.2.0 datasets are available at All CMIP5 data can be accessed from the CMIP5 archive ( The change in wetland area in different projected epochs for each Ramsar site under the four RCP scenarios is publicly available on GitHub ( Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

Computer codes to simulate wetland area by TOPMODEL and to analyse the change in wetland area for Ramsar sites are publicly available on GitHub (


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This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 41722101, 41830643 and 41671079). P.C. acknowledges support from the ERC Synergy grant ERC-2013-SyG-610028 IMBALANCE-P and the ANR CLAND convergence institute. Y.C. acknowledges support from the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program (2019QZKK0303).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



S.P. conceived and designed the study. Y.X. performed the analysis and created all the figures. S.P., P.C. and Y.X. wrote the manuscript with contribution from Y.C.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Shushi Peng.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Etienne Fluet-Chouinard, Zhenguo Niu and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Statistics of numbers and total area of inland Ramsar sites in six continents.

Numbers and total area of inland Ramsar sites in six continents including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America, and Oceania.

Extended Data Fig. 2 Diagram of workflow for simulating wetland dynamics across global inland Ramsar sites.

Workflow for simulating historical (1980–2014) and future (1980–2100) wetland dynamics based on soil moisture from GLDAS Noah v2.0 and CMIP5 climate models under four RCP scenarios.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Evaluation of the TOPMODEL-based hydrological model.

Spatial patterns of long-term maximum wetland fraction from RFW (a) and historical simulation with GLDAS-Noah v2.0 (b), as well as RMSE (the minimum root-mean-square-error) between RFW and the simulation over global wetlands (c) and inland Ramsar sites (d).

Extended Data Fig. 4 Same as Fig. 2, but for temporal changes in numbers of global inland Ramsar sites with wetland loss/gain of five different cutoffs.

a, c, e, g, and i show temporal changes in numbers of sites with wetland loss of 5–10%, 10–20%, 20–30%, 30–50%, and over 50% respectively through the 21st century under RCP2.6 and RCP8.5, while b, d, f, h, and j are for numbers of sites with wetland gain of 5–10%, 10–20%, 20–30%, 30–50%, and over 50% respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Distributions of projected numbers of Ramsar sites with wetland gain/loss of five different cutoffs by the end of this century.

ad show the distributions of projected numbers of Ramsar sites with wetland gain/loss of 5%, 10%, 20%, 30%, and 50% by the end of this century under four RCP scenarios, respectively. The wider parts of distributions signify that relatively more models project that number of sites will change.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Same as Fig. 2, but for temporal changes in numbers of inland Ramsar sites with >10% wetland loss/gain for five continents.

a, c, e, g, and i show temporal changes in numbers of sites with >10% wetland loss in five continents including Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and North America through the 21st century under RCP2.6, RCP8.5, and a global warming of 1.5 °C and 2 °C, while b, d, f, h, and j are for numbers of sites with >10% wetland gain in the five continents respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 7 Wetland risk boundaries across global inland Ramsar sites by 2100.

a, c, e, g, and i show multi-model mean percentage of sites shrinking by over 10% for nine criteria by the end of this century in five continents respectively under RCP2.6, and b, d, f, h, and j are for RCP8.5. C1-C9 represent nine criteria for Ramsar Site designation (Supplementary Table 1). The central angle of each criterion is determined according to the ratio of sites meeting nine criteria. The width of each annulus for each criterion is determined according to the ratio of sites with a loss of 10–20%, 20–30%, 30–50%, or more than 50% to all sites meeting this criterion. The dark grey boundary indicates the threshold of 20% of all inland sites meeting this criterion with over 10% loss.

Extended Data Fig. 8 Projected CMIP5 ensemble mean change in wetland area for global all wetlands.

a-d indicate projected CMIP5 ensemble mean change in wetland area for global all wetlands for 2081–2100 relative to the reference period 1981–2000 under RCP2.6 (13 models), RCP4.5 (18 models), RCP6.0 (9 models), and RCP8.5 (19 models) respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 9 An example of calculating the change of Ramsar wetland.

a, Spatial location of Shengjin Lake National Nature Reserve. b, Spatial pattern of CTI (Compound Topographic Index) for the site and the shapefile of the site and its buffer. c, d, Annual maximum wetland area change by 2100 from FGOALS-g2 model extracted with sub-grid CTI distribution under RCP2.6 and RCP8.5.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussion 1 and 2, Tables 1–4 and Figs. 1–13.

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Source Data Fig. 2

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Source Data Fig. 3

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Source Data Fig. 4

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Source Data Fig. 5

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Xi, Y., Peng, S., Ciais, P. et al. Future impacts of climate change on inland Ramsar wetlands. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 45–51 (2021).

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