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Many lakes in eastern South Dakota have expanded during the Landsat record that began in 1972. Lake Thompson is one that has displayed remarkable change in recent decades.

This part of South Dakota is in what is known as the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR). Numerous depressions in the land were left behind there after the most recent glacial retreat. These depressions are termed potholes and collect rainfall and snowmelt to form wetlands and ponds of varying size.

A wet period in the 1980s and several years in the 1990s resulted in dramatic filling of Lake Thompson, located about 50 kilometers west of Brookings, SD, along with other nearby lakes and sloughs. Lake Thompson is now South Dakota’s largest natural lake.


Every picture has a story to tell
July 29, 1972, Landsat 1 (path/row 32/29) — Part of the Prairie Pothole Region, eastern South Dakota
Aug. 17, 2023, Landsat 9 (path/row 29/29) — Part of the Prairie Pothole Region, eastern South Dakota


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Dahl, T.E., 2014, Status and trends of prairie wetlands in the United States 1997 to 2009: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 67p.,

Dahl, T.E., 1993, Wetland drainage and restoration potential in the Lake Thompson watershed, South Dakota, USA, in Davis, T.J. (Ed.), Towards the Wise Use of Wetlands—Report of the Ramsar Convention Wise Use Project: Gland, Switzerland, Ramsar Convention Bureau,

Hamilton, L.J., 1989, Water resources of Brookings and Kingsbury counties, South Dakota: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 88-4185, 82p.,

Hansen, D.S., and Miller, W.A., 1992, Climatological and Hydrological Factors Affecting the Lake Thompson Chain of Lakes in Eastern South Dakota, in Subitzky, S., (Ed.), Selected Papers in the Hydrologic Sciences 1988-92: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 2340, pp. 21–38,

NOAA, 2018, Monthly Summaries Map: National Centers for Environmental Information, accessed November 8, 2018, at

Sohl, T.L., [n.d.], Lake Thompson Area: South Dakota Birds, accessed November 8, 2018, at, 2014, Lake Thompson Recreation Area:, accessed November 8, 2018, at

South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, 2018, Measured Lakes: SD DENR, accessed November 8, 2018, at

USGS, 2018, Lake Thompson, South Dakota: USGS Image of the Week, accessed November 8, 2018, at

Vanderhoof, M.K., and Alexander, L.C., 2015, The Role of Lake Expansion in Altering the Wetland Landscape of the Prairie Pothole Region, United States: Wetlands, v, 36, Supplement 2, pp. 309–321,

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