• South America;
  • floodplains;
  • rivers;
  • hydrology;
  • inundation

[1] A comparative view of inundation patterns in the large floodplains of South America was derived by analysis of the 37-GHz polarization difference observed by the Scanning Multichannel Microwave Radiometer (SMMR; Nimbus-7 satellite, 1979–1987). The following floodplains were analyzed: (1) mainstem Amazon River floodplain in Brazil; (2) Llanos de Moxos (Beni and Mamoré rivers) in Bolivia; (3) Bananal Island (Araguaía River) in Brazil; (4) Llanos del Orinoco (Apure and Meta rivers) in Venezuela and Colombia; (5) Roraima savannas (Branco and Rupununi rivers) in Brazil and Guyana; and (6) Pantanal wetland (Paraguay River) in Brazil. The maximum areas subject to inundation in each region, which include permanent open waters of river channels and lakes, were as follows (in km2): mainstem Amazon 97,360, Moxos 92,094, Bananal 58,550, Orinoco 107,530, Roraima 16,530, and Pantanal 130,920. The duration of inundation was correlated with the maximum area inundated. Predictive relationships between flooded area and water levels in the nearby rivers allowed extension of the inundation record over nearly a century for the Amazon and Pantanal and several decades for the other floodplains. Interannual variability in the maximum extent of inundation is greatest in the Pantanal, followed by Roraima and Bananal. Based on these extended records, the long-term mean inundation areas (in km2 and including rivers and lakes) were as follows: mainstem Amazon 46,920, Moxos 29,460, Bananal 13,110, Orinoco 34,700, Roraima 3,480, and Pantanal 34,880. This information is fundamental for hydrological, biogeochemical, and ecological studies of these floodplain-river systems and will improve estimates of methane and other trace gas emissions to the atmosphere from these vast wetlands.