shrug-l: CONSERVATION: USGS produces first interactive map of U.S. land cover

Moore, Chris P. Chris.P.Moore at
Wed Jul 14 14:07:31 EDT 2010

Not really in my line of work, but the site seems to be well put together. Reports are good by ‘MRLC Zone’ or by ‘State/County’. You can also download data. Best I can tell it’s an ArcGIS Server solution, I can see some properties showing ArcGIS REST paths.

Here is the link if it does not come through in the article.

A small distraction for all of us not attending the ESRI UC this year. Look at all the natural land cover you helped preserved by not going!


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From: chris.p.moore at [mailto:chris.p.moore at]
Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2010 1:37 PM
To: Moore, Chris P.
Subject: From Greenwire -- CONSERVATION: USGS produces first interactive map of U.S. land cover

An E&E Publishing Service
CONSERVATION: USGS produces first interactive map of U.S. land cover  (Wednesday, July 14, 2010)
Laura Petersen, E&E reporter
Decades of mapping, advances in satellite imagery and a dedication to scientific decisionmaking has resulted in the first comprehensive, interactive land cover map<> of the United States.
"It's the best imagery we have right now, the best characterization of land cover that exists as far as I know," said John Mosesso, manager of the Gap Analysis Program (GAP), a project of the U.S. Geological Survey that created the map.
The map depicts the extent of forests, grasslands, wetlands and other habitats from coast to coast. USGS has made it searchable by state and region at three different levels of detail using eight, 43 or 590 classification categories. That means a user can view the map as broadly as forest or shrubland, or as specifically as Mediterranean California Lower Montane Black Oak-Conifer Forest and Woodland.
And it is available for anyone with computer access.
"It doesn't do much good to have data sitting somewhere where people can't get at it," Mosesso said.
The habitat information can be combined with maps of species distribution and protected areas to see where there are conservation holes. While this can be used for endangered species, GAP's motto is "Keeping common species common." USGS makes no specific recommendations, but the hope is that resources managers will use this information to proactively fill in conservation gaps before habitats are fragmented by development and wildlife pushed toward extinction.
But to do that accurately and effectively, managers need the baseline data these maps provide. "It's vitally important for scientific decisionmakers and resource managers to have a clear understanding of exactly what they are dealing with," Mosesso said.
In the past, decisionmakers relied on information observers collected based on where they had been and happened to have seen. Now, satellite imagery provides a systematic snapshot of the entire country.
"It creates a framework to monitor changes over time," said Rob McDonald, a conservation scientist with the Nature Conservancy. "That's a really powerful thing for conservation."
USGS has been working on this multimillion-dollar map for most of a decade, attacking large regions at a time. Prices for satellite images have come down dramatically in the past 20 years, enabling the mapping team to purchase images for much of the United States. Instead of government agencies pooling resources to buy just one image per site, USGS could afford three images per location to capture seasonal variation, which increases accuracy in categorizing habitats, said Kevin Gergely, GAP's national program coordinator.
The satellite images are not like the street-view photographs in Google maps; they are numerical values expressing how much light is reflected from the surface of the Earth. To translate those numbers into corresponding habitat categories, scientists from USGS and partner organizations spent hours in the field recording on-the-ground conditions. Surveyors matched the field samples with the satellite numbers, and trained computer models to convert the reflection values into tangible land cover categories like forest, grassland, wetland, human use and so on.
Once this process was completed for the Southwest, Northwest, Southeast and California by 2009, surveyors had enough consistent data to combine with the Forest Service's Land Fire database and, voilà, they had pieced together the first complete national land cover map.
The map is 1:100,000 resolution, which is less detailed than a 1:24,000 topography map. It cannot tell viewers how many trees are in a forest, but it can identify the dominant tree species. A broad brush stroke is important for large-scale planning at agencies like the federal Bureau of Land Management or state departments of fish and game. The map helps them see where large tracts of diverse ecosystems still exist so they can work to preserve whole habitats, rather than just single species.
"We'll never map or have knowledge of where every species is," McDonald said. "A coarse filter helps you protect species you don't know or even think about."
USGS scientists may publish findings based on the map in a peer-reviewed journal, Gergely said.
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