Worldbuilding #11 – Wetlands

WorldWelcome to another edition of worldbuilding. I know I said in the last tutorial that I was done doing Rivers. However, Wetlands are quite a bit different from rivers. It is best to think of Wetlands as a combination as a water source (river, lake, ocean) and land.

There is a lot of information to go over today. Lots to learn.

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Today we’ll discuss three different types of wetlands. Marsh, Swamps, and Mires (or Quagmire, giggity). Before we get into the specifics of each and have tutorials on how to make them on your map, we need to discuss wetlands themselves.


Wetlands is a land area that is saturated with water. Generally this is permanent, but can be seasonal. What makes wetlands unique from other bodies of waters is the vegetation of aquatic plants. These plants adapted to the unique hydric soil.

Wetlands are also the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems, serving as a home to a wide range of plants and animal life. The water found in wetlands can be freshwater and saltwater, or even a combination of the two called brackish water. There are basically two types of wetlands, inland and coastal. These are also known as tidal and non-tidal. From there, there are four categories of wetlands: Marshes, Swamps, Bogs, and Fens (last two being types of Mires).

Except for Antarctica, wetlands can be found on every continent. The largest include Amazon River basin, West Siberian Plain, and Pantanal is South American.

Wetlands help in a number of roles including:

  • Flood Control
  • Groundwater Replenishment
  • Shoreline Stability and Storm Protection
  • Water Purification
  • Biodiversity of Reservoir
  • Wetland Products

However, humans throughout history have disturbed wetland ecology with

  • Recreation and tourism
  • Draining wetlands to use its rich soil
  • Logging and transport
  • Mining for minerals and resource, such as Peat

Thankfully, efforts are now made to create artificial wetlands, and to some success.


Wetland Hydrology is association with the spacial dispersion, flow, and chemical attributes of surface/ground waters. Wetland Hydrology can be categorized as

  • Riverine (streams and rivers)
  • Lacustrine (lakes and reservoirs
  • Palustrine (isolated)

Water leaves a wetland by evaporation (part of the water cycle that creates rain), drainage to ground water, or by surface runoff (think of a glass of water that is overfilling). These are used to maintain wetlands at an optimum level.


Carbon is the major nutrient found within wetlands. Other nutrients include, sulfur, phosphorus, and nitrogen. The exception is Bogs, that have a low amount of nitrogen. This is partially due that Bogs receive their water from the atmosphere, and has low mineral composition. This makes the water and soil highly acidic.


Four types of plants found within wetlands

  1. Submerged. Plants that are completely underwater.
  2. Floating. Found in slow-moving water with rich nutrient level water, these tend to have small roots and generally small, though it can take up the entire surface of a wetland system.
  3. Emergent. Above surface plants with roots completely submerged.
  4. Trees and Shrubs. We’ll discuss this in more detail with Marshes and Swamps, but certain trees and shrubs can grow in wetlands.


If we have flora, we got to have fauna.

  1. Fish. Very dependent on wetland environments. 75% of the US commercial fish and shellfish come from coastal marshes thanks to estuaries. Some fish need trees to lay their eggs.
  2. Amphibians. Frogs need both land and water to reproduce and feed. tadpoles control algal populations, and adult frogs feed on insects.
  3. Reptiles. Alligators and crocodiles. There are a wide variety of reptiles, including snakes, lizards and turtles.
  4. Mammals. Small mammals come to wetlands for the vegetation and seeds. Though some do come for the other animals.
  5. Platypus. They are so awesome, they get their own category.
  6. Insects and invertebrates. More than 100,000 known species live within wetlands.

Wetland Benefits

As mentioned above, there are benefits that wetland provides. Some of this is of benefit to humans, and others are things that are exploited by humans. Worse, a few things humans have done is upset the balance of wetlands, which is why restoration is necessary.

Flood Control

As we know, rivers and lakes can flood. Doing so, over time, moves sediment to land not touched by water to create what is known as floodplains. Floodplains act as storage for water during flood, to help prevent flood from being a danger to humans. Floodplains are a form of inland wetlands. Floodplains are high in nutrients for soil, and is often used for farmland.

Use of floodplains for human needs have cause irregular flood control. The area is often drained or over used and no longer can fulfill the same function it once did. This also results in more severe flood damage. Hurricane Katrina is an example of such a thing, where floodplains have been overused by humans and the destruction caused because of it.

Groundwater Replenishment

Surface water is what most people think of when they see a wetland system. It is part of a water cycle system that includes atmospheric water and groundwater. Wetlands are directly linked to groundwater and regulates quantity and quality of water found below ground.

Groundwater is used for drinking water. Over 1 billion people in Asia use groundwater for drinking. However, 80% of the groundwater consumption is used for irrigation and other agricultural uses. Over use of groundwater creates an issue of scarcity of drinking water, and is of major concern. We, as humans, may extract more for drinking than is capable of replenishing itself, especially if we destroy wetlands.

Shoreline Stabilization and Storm Protection

Wetland systems protect and stabilize coastal zones. Mangroves stabilize the coastal zone from the interior and will migrate with the shoreline to remain close to the edge of the water. It helps protect against storms and tidal waves by reducing speed and height of waves and floodwaters.

Of course, humans do live near the coast, not just for farming, but also recreational. Beach front property is of high value.

Water Purification

Ways in which wetlands purify the water:

  1. Nutrient Retention. Wetlands maintain and cycle sediment and nutrients. One such function is vegetation, up-taking and storing nutrients found in surrounding soil and water. These nutrients remain in the system until the plant dies or is harvested by animals or humans.
  2. Sediment Traps. As we learn with floodplains, when a water system floods, it moves sediment across the land and creates floodplains, which is basically trapping sediment. We also see in forests located in wetlands act as a physical barrier to reduce the speed of water flow and trap sediment.
  3. Many biological organisms exist that will remove toxic substances, including pesticides, industrial discharge, and mining waste. Plants are mostly responsible for the removal of toxic elements.

Wetland Products

Wetlands produce an array of products that can be harvested. The most significant is fish, which amount for the primary source of protein for over one billion people and used by an additional two billion as part of their diet.

Another food source is rice, which one of the most consumed foods in the world.

Some foods found in wetlands can sustain entire villages. Such as the Sago Palm, which contains an edible starch. Or Nipa palm, which can be used as a sugar substitute, vinegar, alcohol, or even biofuel. Mangroves are highly plentiful in wetlands, which attract bees, but can also be used for fuelwood, salt, medicines, textiles, and dyes.


So let’s talk about the specific types of wetlands. In this article, we are discussing Swamps, Marshes, and Bogs. There are Fens, but I won’t be discussing that today.


The main thing to know about swamps is that they are permanently saturated with water and dominated by trees. They are also found in the tropics, but may exist in humid areas as well. They tend to have slow-moving waters or stagnant waters. They tend to be separate from a body of water as a flood plain, but may be part of a section of river that is slow.

For Coastal Swamps (or Tidal Swamps), you mostly find Mangroves. This is due to the water being a combination of salt water and freshwater, known as brackish. Most plants can’t survive in that. Mangroves are important tree for swamps, as they trap sediment and provide homes for various animals, while keeping soil around themselves.

Inland swamps (or Non-Tidal Swamps) tend to occur near large rivers that have have regular flooding, or seasonal flooding. This is due to what is known as hammocks, which is strips of dry-land covered by aquatic vegetation. This vegetation appears to tolerate periods of time without being submerge in water.


Marshes are a type of wetland dominated by plants (grasses, rushes, reeds) rather than trees, such as swamps. They’re notable for appear on the edges of lakes or streams and act as a transition between water and land ecosystems. If trees are present, they tend to be low-growing shrubs.

Geographically the are north of where Swamps are usually located (or further South if below the equator).

Salt Marshes

These marshes are found in mid to high latitutes. They are close enough to the shoreline that the tides affects them, and perodically be covered in water. Commonly found in lagoons, estuaries, and sandspit. These types of Salt Marshes collects sediment and nutrients before reaching the ocean.

Freshwater Marshes

Most common form of wetlands in North America. Of the many types of Freshwater Marshes, the most notable is Wet Meadows. Wet Meadows tend to occur in depressions next to mountains or on the edge of large lakes and rivers. High plant diversity. Regularly flooded but can be dry in summer. Green in spring, yellow in summer (generally).


Unlike Swamps and Marshes that form in warmer climates, Bogs form in colder environments. They are generally found in higher altitudes, though can form on mountains where it is colder.

Bogs form in kettle lakes, which are lakes that have a depression left by a former glacier. It is basically a lake that fills up with plant debris, such as leaves, roots, ans stems from larger plants. These accumulate on the bottom of lake bed. As the lakes becomes more shallow, moss and other plants grow on the edge of the water and floats at the top of the lake. Eventually, a bog becomes 1 part water 1 part plant.

Bogs occur where the ground is acidic and low in nutrients. Bogs themselves tend to have a brown colour to water. Plants tend to grow slowly, but also decay slowly. This helps in the production of Peat and acts as a carbon sink.

Peat is perhaps one of the biggest resources from all of Wetlands. When harvested and dried, it can be used as a fuel. 20% of home heat in Ireland comes from Peat. Russia also uses it as a fuel, at more than 90 million metric tons per year.

Other uses of peat is as a soil amendment, which increases soil’s capacity to retain moisture. Also mulch. Some distilleries use it to dry barley for making Scotch whiskey.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for peat to form once harvested, since it is a slow process. More than 90% of bogs in England have been destroyed because of Peat harvesting.

You can harvest the following from bogs:

  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Cloudberries
  • Huckleberries
  • Lingonberries

Interestingly, bogs are also really good at preserving dead animals. Archaeologist have found human bodies as old as 5,000 years old that were in great condition, that allowed their organs, skin, clothes, and even tattoos to be studies.


Types of Wetlands

  • Swamps – wood based near water
  • Marshes – plant based near water
  • Bogs – lakes primarily plant based


In order to figure out where our wetlands will go, we need to understand the longitude of our map.

*This next step is you are doing a world map and not just a part of your map.

1. Create a new layer
a. Name layer equator.

We need to figure out your height halfway point. You can use the ruler on the side, or press ctrl+R to get the height. Cancel out of this screen. For me, the height is 2000, so I need to draw a line at 1000.

b. Select the Line/Curve tool

We need to find the exact middle. You can use the ruler to sight it, or on the very bottom right hand corner of the program, it will tell you where your cursor is. It’s OK if you are not exact, by try to get as close as you can. Your width can be in negative numbers, and when you start drawing, it’ll make it at 0.

c. Draw a line across the map at the halfway point. Use Brush width: 2

d. Draw 10 additional lines above and below this line, at equal distances.

2. Create a new Layer
a. Name it: Wetland Zones
b. In the Equator layer, use the magic want and select between the equator and the first line north.
c. Select a green colour
d. Go to Wetland Zone and hit backspace.
e. Do this two more times, so the first 3 lines are green.
f. Next two layers after that, use a orange colour.
g. Next three layers after that, use a brown colour.
h. Next two after, use a white colour.


White is snow regions where wetlands can’t exist.
Brown is bog territory
Orange is Marshes
Green is Swamps

To create swamps, you can use the Basic and Advanced Tutorial in creating Forests. You can make them near forests. I’ll show you a technique you can use to make it more to your liking.

3. Create New Layer
a. Name it Swamps
b. Go to Land Start Layer
c. Select an area you want for swamp.
d. Use magic wand to select it.

Use between 7% – 15%. Make sure there are holes within the selection.

e. Set colour to 269926
f. Go to Swamp Layer, Hit backspace.
g. Create New Layer, name it Swamp Water
h. Invert Selection
i. In Swamp Water, select colour 0094FF
j. Hit backspace
k. Press Escape
l. Go back to Swamp Layer
m. With Selection Wand, click the outside of the swamp area.
n. Go back to New Layer.
o. Press Delete.

Now you have water throughout this area. Do the same steps to make it ‘bushy’. After doing that, if this were Marshes, we could stop here. However, to make it foresty, you will need to use TreeThingy found in Advanced Forests.

Play around with it, perhaps set a different tree icon to know it is swamps.

Now move all 3 layers

Now my image, there is example of coastal and inland swamps. If I wanted marshes instead, just remove the tree layer.

swamp example

Bogs are a bit different.

4. Create a New Layer
a. Call it Bogs
b. Go to Lakes Layer
c. Select All lakes
d. Go to Bogs Layer
e. Use Colour FF6A00

Now you have a lot of lakes filled with brownish orange. So, use the magic wand, and for Selection Method (next to Flood Mode up top), select Add. Just click on the lakes you want. After you’re done, invert selection and press delete.

f. Set Transparency to 85 – 125. I set mine to 100.

One problem we have though is beaches. Bogs wouldn’t have these. Maybe the very edge, but not this big. So, you can select your beach on Lakes/Beach Layer, copy the land there, and proceed to Bogs Layer and paste.

Or, you can select the beach, and proceed to create shrubs using colour 005108.


Unfortunately, I’ve reached the memory limit of this project. So, the next two tutorials will be the last tutorials on this specific project. I may still show you map techniques in the future, but those will be on different maps.

However, after the next two tutorials, I will be doing discussions on various elements of worldbuilding in a way never before seen, that will help you better understand the process.

Advanced Rivers

Help Keep This Site Running

This site is a great achievement for me, but due to being unable to work, I may not be able to keep this site running. With your help, I might be able to.

I need $125 by October 30th, 2017. Anything you can give will help.

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