12 Sources to Download FREE Land Cover and Land Use Data
Before presenting the sources to download free land cover and land use data, let’s talk about the difference between these two terms often being used interchangeably: Land use and land cover!
The land cover indicates the physical land type such as forest or open water whereas land use documents how people are using the land.
Land cover data documents how much of a region is covered by forests, wetlands, impervious surfaces, agriculture, and other land and water types. Water types include wetlands or open water. Land use shows how people use the landscape – whether for development, conservation, or mixed uses. The different types of land cover can be managed or used quite differently.
Land cover can be determined by analyzing satellite and aerial imagery. Land use cannot be determined from satellite imagery. Land cover maps provide information to help managers best understand the current landscape. To see change over time, land cover maps for several different years are needed. With this information, managers can evaluate past management decisions as well as gain insight into the possible effects of their current decisions before they are implemented.
Read below for a summary of the various land cover and land use data sources available for free at your fingertips.
1. MODIS Global Land Cover
The land cover maps were developed at Boston University in Boston, MA., using data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite. The maps are based on a digital database of Earth images collected between November 2000 and October 2001.
“These maps, with spatial resolution of 1 kilometer (.6 mile), mark a significant step forward in global land cover mapping by providing a clearer, more detailed picture than previously available maps,” says Mark Friedl, one of the project’s investigators.
Each MODIS land cover map contains 17 different land cover types, including eleven natural vegetation types such as deciduous and evergreen forests, savannas, and wetlands. Agricultural land use and land surfaces with little or no plant cover—such as bare ground, urban areas and permanent snow and ice—are also depicted on the maps.
To download MODIS Global Land Cover data, visit this link >>