The inaugural North American Land Cover Summit was held at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. on September 20-22, 2006. Sponsoring the summit were the USGS, EPA, USDA Forest Service, NOAA, NASA, INEGI, Natural Resources Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. ESRI, Clark Labs, Geographic Resource Solutions, Lockheed Martin, The Nature Conservancy, Global Marketing Insights, Inc. and ASRC Management Services offered corporate sponsorship.The purpose of the Summit was aptly stated in the following two paragraphs from the conference program guide:

“Land cover mapping, characterization, monitoring and forecasting are critical elements of many environmental monitoring and land management programs worldwide, in government, industry, and non-governmental sectors. Land cover data and information provide a direct, objective indication of the effects of land use impacts on natural resource conditions, on environmental and human health, and on the quality and quantity of water. Because these issues are not confined to national boundaries, there is an urgent need for accurate, consistent trans-boundary data on land cover condition and extent.

“The objective of the North America land cover summit is to pursue collaboration among institutions and government agencies across the continent, advancing the development and application of comprehensive land cover information. Summit participants will assess critical issues for improving land cover applications, identify institutional needs and gaps in technical capabilities, review innovative uses of land cover information and recognize opportunities for interagency and international collaboration.”

Highlights related to Landsat data use include:

Mario Reyes Ibarra a General director of Geography from Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Estadística Geografía e Informática (INEGI) spoke about country-wide land cover mapping efforts. The entire country was mapped in the 1980’s and 1990’s. A year 2000 land cover mapping was performed using ETM+ data and INEGI is on track to complete an update by 2010.

+Bruce Jones, the Chief Scientist for the Geography Discipline at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provided an overview of the USGS land cover programs.These include participation in the Multi-resolution Land Cover (MRLC) Consortium, which was formed to purchase Landsat 5 data for the conterminous United States and to develop a land cover data set called the National Land Cover Dataset (NLCP 1992). The USGS also participated in a second MRLC Consortium that was formed to purchase three dates of Landsat 7 imagery for the entire United States (MRLC 2001) and to coordinate the production of a comprehensive land cover database for the nation called the National Land Cover Database (NLCD 2001). The USGS is also creating a change product from NASA’s 1990 and 2001 GeoCover datasets with plans to add both impervious surface and classification confidence layers. Finally, the USGS has initiated a U.S. land cover trends programs that employs a sampling scheme.

Jeff Cechka, the Director of Forest Information with Natural Resources Canada is responsible for directing the Earth Observation for Sustainable development of Forests (EOSD) land cover program, the National Forest Inventory, and the National Forest Information System. The primary input for these programs is orthorectified Landsat data. A complete Canada-wide Landsat data set was purchased in 2000.

+ Francisco Takaki, also of INEGI, described the national land cover mapping program at 1:250000 and 1:1000000 scales using aerial photos and Landsat data. Fourteen different data layers were produced. Five-year updates are made to the 1:250000 database using Landsat imagery.

+ Collin Homer, the NLCD project manager at USGS EROS and coordinator for MRLC talked about the MRLC’s nine federal partners and how the MRLC database feeds multi-layered products. The NLCD 1992 project provided two important lessons: an urban imperviousness surface and canopy map layers are required. Goals for 2007 include a NLCD change product, completing NLCD for Alaska and completing a 2006 NLCD based on Landsat 5 data.

+Nate Herold from NOAA, described their Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) based on Landsat data classifications. C-CAP employs the same NLCD classification departing only in refined classification of wetlands. Their vision is to produce coastal products every 5 years.

+Carla Sullivan, a senior policy advisor for NOAA, described the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) comprised of 65 nations and 43 associations. GEOSS is designed to improve coordination of strategies and observation systems, link all platforms including in situ, aircraft, and satellite networks, identify gaps in global capacity, facilitate exchange of data information and finally to improve decision-makers’ abilities to address pressing policy issues. The GEOSS program is also implementing GEONetcast, an open and worldwide data and information exchange using the same technology as DirectTV.

+ Compton Tucker, a physical scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centerpresented details about the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). CCSP was launched in February 2002 as a collaborative interagency program, under a new cabinet-level organization designed to improve the government wide management of climate science and climate-related technology development. The CCSP incorporates and integrates the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) with the Administration’s U.S. Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI). He also mentioned that the Landsat 7 scan line corrector failure is currently holding up 7 CCSP tasks.

Ashbindu Singh, a researcher with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), talked about UNEP programs in different parts of the world. One of his papers titled “Digital change detection techniques using remotely sensed data” has made a lasting impact in the field of remote sensing. The team under his direction created UNEP’s best selling publication, One Planet, Many People: Atlas of Our changing Environment.The UNEP goal is to transfer science into policy. Over 17,000 Landsat scenes have been distributed to 168 countries.

+ Garik Gutman, Program Manager for the NASA Land Cover and Land Use Change Program (LCLUC) described LCLUC as the scientific theme within NASA’s Earth Science Program. In particular he described the Landsat based mid-decadal land survey and its three phases. Phase I involves data compilation by the USGS, Phase II has NASA performing the data processing while Phase III represents development of LCLUC products by both agencies.

+ John Latham is a remote sensing officer of the Environment and Natural Resources Service of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. He talked about his coordination efforts for the Global Land Cover network (GLCN), a program to increase the availability of reliable and standardized information on land cover and its changes at the global level. FAO is concerned with food security and to this end a land cover classification system has been developed. “The demise of the Landsat program has been a shock to us all,” he remarked.

+ William Acevedo, is a USGS research scientist in the Geographic Analysis and Monitoring Program of the Geography Discipline. Mr. Acevedo talked about the USGS Land Cover Trends research project, a national assessment of conterminous U.S. land cover change for five periods between 1973 and 2000. Satellite imagery was and is used to measure national land change estimates made on a eco-region basis (84 such eco-regions have been identified in the U.S.). A probability based sampling approach is employed using sample blocks 10 km by 10 km in size. MSS, TM, ETM+ data are all utilized.

+ Roger Sayre, a Senior Scientist for the USGS Geographic Analysis and Monitoring Program, presented a partnership known as Global Integrated Trends Analysis Network (GITAN) and its focus on the modeling and development of standardized ecosystems. Ecosystem conservation has emerged as a high priority in many global processes and conventions. The GEOSS protocol, another international agreement by member countries, has prioritized global ecosystem development and monitoring as a short-term priority. The global climate change community similarly supports a standardized system of global ecosystems for improved modeling of carbon budgets. Currently, there is no standardized, robust, and practical global ecosystem classification and map to support these applications. The GEOSS Ecosystems Task, to establish a robust ecosystems map of the world that includes energy, climate, water, health, ecosystems, and Earth events, was presented. These are the six USGS science themes for the next decade. The Ecosystems Mapping Model inputs include elevation, landforms, geology, land cover (Landsat) and bio-climate. Outputs from the model are unique classes that require labeling.

Ted Huffman, a land evaluation research scientist, talked about his research that relates to the integration of land cover data with other data types to interpret land use and to verify developing farm-level models of land use change for the Research Branch of Agriculture Canada. Specifically he talked about modeling, reporting, temporal monitoring (Landsat) and bio-fuel production site identification needs.

+ Gail Thelin, a USGS water specialist, described the National Water Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA). NAWQA provides an understanding of water-quality conditions and how those conditions may vary locally, regionally, and nationally; whether conditions are getting better or worse over time; and how natural features and human activities affect those conditions. The program has 50 individual study units which cover 60% of all U.S. drinking water. To achieve success land cover requirements for the nation and large watersheds include medium resolution data (Landsat), decadal updates and consistency over space and time.

North American Land Cover Summit
National Academy of Sciences
2100 C Street, NW
Washington, DC

September 20-22, 2006
Contributor: Richard Irish