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Land Cover and Land Cover Change
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These map products of the North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS) are a collaborative initiative between Canada, Mexico, and the United States to monitor land cover - the observed physical cover on the surface of the Earth - and its change over time. These maps represents land cover in 2005, 2010, and land cover change from 2005-2010 based on Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite imagery monthly composites at 250 m spatial resolution. Nineteen land cover classes were defined using the Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) standard developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of United Nations. The NALCMS was developed to depict information about land cover and land cover change in a seamless, consistent, and automated way across North America at regular intervals.


The North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS) was developed to depict information about land cover - the observed physical cover on the surface of the earth - and land cover change in a seamless, consistent, and automated way across North America at regular intervals.

How is it unique?

NALCMS is unique in that the entire system was developed to meet the collective needs of the three North American countries and users of North American data. It is accurate, of known quality and is being developed with expertise from all three countries. The NALCMS uses a common strategy and framework to generate consistent results across North America facilitating continental applications and monitoring.

Practical application

Information about land cover change across North America is valuable for a range of audiences, including decision makers, international organizations, nongovernmental conservation organizations, land managers, and scientific researchers.  

NALCMS products can be used for a variety of applications including: Carbon sequestration analysis, wildlife habitat mapping, ecosystem monitoring, environmental planning, weather forecasting, water quality assessments and biofuels production potential. 

The land cover maps of the NALCMS serves as a valuable land change indicator for North America to help us better understand the dynamics of the changing North American environment.


These NALCMS products are the Land Cover 2005 map, Land Cover 2010, and Land cover change 2005-2010 and the satellite imagery showing Seasonal Land Cover Change in 2006. Upcoming NALCMS products will include updated land cover maps at regular intervals and change detection products.

Sources of the data

The NALCMS uses data from a remote sensing instrument called MODIS, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. MODIS collects information about the surface of the earth by sensing and recording reflected or emitted energy. The MODIS instruments are part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Earth Observing System.

The MODIS instrument from which the data are collected is aboard the Terra satellite. MODIS acquires images of the entire surface of the earth every one to two days, in 36 spectral bands (groups of wavelengths), ranging from 0.4 to 14.4 µm. The MODIS instrument takes measurements continually, and in a very wide field of view (the width of the satellite's viewing swath is 2,330 km). Terra travels from north to south across the equator in the morning.

MODIS' measurements are taken at three different levels of spatial resolution: 250 meters, 500 meters, and 1000 meters. The resolution is the area represented by each pixel of an image; a resolution of 250 meters means that each pixel represents a 250 meter x 250 meter piece of the earth's surface. The smaller the resolution, the more detailed the image.

Data from MODIS are transferred to ground stations in New Mexico and are then sent to the Earth Observation System Data and Operations System (EDOS) at the Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, DC, where the data are processed and distributed. The NALCMS acquires the MODIS data by downloading it from NASA.

Because the MODIS data files are very large, data storage needs and data download time are significant. For the NALCMS development phase (2005-2007), the required data storage capacity for the MODIS data is approximately 50 TB (50,000 GB). 

Before the NALCMS can use the MODIS data to create maps of land cover, the data needs to be processed. The creation of land cover and land cover change maps using remotely sensed data is an extremely complex process with many steps and decisions. For details about the processing steps, please contact the NALCMS partners.


Global Land Cover Initiatives
University of Maryland 1-km Global Land Cover
Boston University Land Cover and Land Cover Dynamics
Global Land Cover Characterization
Global Land Cover 2000
Global Land Cover Facility (GLCF)
Global Observation of Forest and Land Cover Dynamics(GOFC-GOLD)
Global Land Cover Network (GLCN)

National Land Cover Programs
Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics Consortium (MRLC)
USGS Land Cover Institute
Canada Centre for Remote Sensing


MODIS website

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