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Brussels, 26 November 2003

Global Land Cover: unique picture of world vegetation from satellites

A unique global land cover database for the year 2000 (GLC2000) is at last ready for use. This map fills an important knowledge gap concerning the distribution of vegetation and land cover on our planet. It was completed by a world-wide partnership of over 30 research organisations, co-ordinated by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC). GLC2000 results will be presented at the November 26-29 GMES (Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security) meeting and subsequent GEO (Global Earth Observation) conference on November 28-29, in Baveno (Italy). GLC2000 will allow for better monitoring of the environment. This will, in turn, help forecast and prevent natural and man-made disasters, and study eco-systems, bio-diversity, climate change and weather forecasting.

“By working together, scientists from around the world have given us a unique and accurate picture of the state of our planet's surface as we enter the third millennium,” says European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. “Thanks to this comprehensive mapping, we can better monitor the effects of climate change and human activity on nature. We have a valuable snapshot of the Earth's “skin” that will allow us to better forecast possible disasters and help prevent them. Global land cover monitoring is one of the key needs to be met by the Commission and European Space Agency's joint initiative on Global Monitoring for the Environment and Security (GMES)”.

Mapping our planet

Mapping our entire planet's surface began to get easier in the 1970s with the advent of Earth observing polar orbiting satellites. Images from space were used to map different parts of the world, but it took until the 1990s to gather, process and analyse the first complete global data set. The resulting land cover map, based on satellite observations collected between 1992 and 1993, has been widely used for climate modelling, resource management and ecosystem studies.

Yet since 1993 our planet's land cover has changed and, in some cases, these changes have been quite considerabe. For example, almost 6 000 000 hectares of humid tropical forest have disappeared each year since 1993. At the same time, newer and better sensors have been launched into space, and experts have learned more about ways of analysing the data they provide to create land cover maps. The GLC2000 project is part of this process of scientific and technical advance.

Solving the global vegetation puzzle

In 1999, a partnership co-ordinated by the Commission's Joint Research Centre launched the preparation of a new database to take stock of the state of the World's land cover at the turn of the Millennium: the “Global Land Cover 2000” project (GLC2000). The project involved daily observations of the planet's land surface between November 1 1999 and December 31 2000 with the “VEGETATION” sensor flying on the SPOT-4 satellite. The VEGETATION programme partners (Centre National d' Etudes Spatiales France; Swedish National Space Board, Italian Space Agency, Belgian Office of Science and Technology and European Commission) provided the SPOT-4 satellite observations to the GLC2000 project partnership.

The partnership is made up of major users of land cover information and experts in land cover mapping from different parts of the world, including a number of countries in tropical regions. Local experts mapped each region in the way that best described the local land cover. Partners used a system developed by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to classify land cover in such a way that the detailed regional maps could be processed and presented in a consistent way. The JRC analysed regional maps and used them to create the GLC2000 database. This new map presents 22 detailed land cover types, ranging from the boreal forests of the Northern hemisphere, agricultural land, cities and deserts to tropical forests, wetlands and permanent snowfields.

Global alliance and applications

FAO and UNEP welcomed the GLC2000 products. They are co-sponsoring publication and distribution of the final maps with the European Commission. FAO will use them, and will provide them to its Member States for work on climate, bio-diversity and the sustainable management of natural resources.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, launched by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2001 to provide assessments to the UN's Environmental Conventions, is using GLC2000 as its Land Cover reference to support work on assessing impact of ecosystem change on human health and poverty, bio-diversity, and environmental quality.

France's national meteorological service, Météo-France, is integrating the GLC2000 data into its eco-climate database as a fundamental part of their weather forecasting models and their global climate modelling in collaboration with the European Centre for Medium range Weather Forecasts.

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