Home Archived December 11, 2018

The USGS Land Cover Institute (LCI)

USGS Land Cover

The USGS has been at the core of land cover and land use research and applications since the late 1960's. Under the geography banner within the survey, it is arguably the largest operational land cover agency in the world today. Land cover has historically been part of USGS's research heritage, and has been significantly influential in the science of mapping land cover and land use.

Current mapping techniques of land cover would not be possible today without milestones such as James Anderson's 1976 publication entitled A Land Cover Classification System for Use with Remote Sensor Data. Anderson et al., produced three hierarchical levels of classifying land cover and land use with level three being the most detailed, representing over 100 landuse types. Development of such techniques has facilitated the mapping, modeling and measurement of many land cover applications, which in turn has stimulated collaborative partnerships with other outside agencies.

The scope of USGS land cover activities ranges spatially and temporally, from local to global scales and includes historical, current and future timeframes. A selection of current land cover applications ongoing within USGS includes, biodiversity conservation, water quality and assessment, phenology of ecosystems, and assessing the rates, causes and consequences of contemporary United States land cover change. Land cover research and applications is now a significant growth area in the world of science and we can expect to see further opportunities in the coming years.

USGS National Water Quality Assessment (NWQA) study sites
National Land Cover Database 1992 and 2001
US Land Cover Change
Mapping contemporary land cover change across the conterminous United States.
US Phenology
Phenology study of the conterminous United States

USGS Land Cover - Historical Milestones

    • Anderson et al., System for Land Use and Land Cover Classification
    • Conterminous United States Mapped Using Aerial Photography

      75% of the State of Alaska Was Mapped Using Landsat Satellite Data

    • Multi-resolution Landscape Characterization Consortium (MRLC) Formed with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and US Forest Service (USFS).
    • First 1-km Global Land Cover Characteristics Database Completed
    • Land Cover and Vegetation Databases of the U.S. Using Landsat Thematic Mapper Data Completed
    • Gap Analysis National Vegetation Mapping Initiated

    2000s - New Directions
    • Systematic Assessment of National Land Use Dynamics
    • Operational Baseline Mapping of Land Cover Characteristic