FAO initiative centralizes global land cover data

New database most-reliable global view of planetary land cover assembled to date.

A new U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) database released March 17 collects previously scattered and unharmonized land cover information from around the globe into one centralized database, marking a major improvement in information regarding the physical characteristics of the Earth's surface.

Up to now, one of the major challenges to getting a good global overview of land cover — e.g., how much land is covered by croplands, trees or forests, bare soils, etc. — has been the fact that different countries and organizations go about identifying, measuring and recording such data in diverse ways.

However, for FAO's new Global Land Cover SHARE database (GLC-SHARE), data pulled from multiple sources and partners was quality-controlled and harmonized using internationally accepted definitions and standards, bringing a wealth of country-level information into one consolidated dataset spanning the entire planet.

Applications of the new GLC-SHARE database include monitoring of global land cover trends, evaluating the suitability of land for various uses, assessing the impact of climate change on food production and land-use planning.

FAO's new database includes 11 global land cover layers:

* Artificial surfaces (which cover 0.6% of the Earth's surface);

* Bare soils (15.2%);

* Croplands (12.6%);

* Grasslands (13.0%);

* Herbaceous vegetation (1.3%);

* Inland water bodies (2.6%);

* Mangroves (0.1%);

* Shrub-covered areas (9.5%);

* Snow and glaciers (9.7%);

* Sparse vegetation (7.7%), and

* Tree-covered areas (27.7%).

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