A NEW U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) database launched 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 until now, one of the major challenges to getting a good global overview of land cover — e.g., how much land is covered by cropland, trees or forests, bare soil, 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 were quality-controlled and harmonized using internationally accepted definitions and standards, bringing a wealth of country-level information into one consolidated data set spanning the entire planet.
Applications of the new GLC-SHARE database include monitoring 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%).
"A strong understanding of our planet's land cover is essential to promoting sustainable land resources management — including agricultural production to feed a growing population — that makes efficient use of increasingly scarce natural resources yet safeguards the environment," said John Latham of FAO's Land & Water Division.
"This update to our understanding of the Earth's land cover comes at a crucial time," he added. "It will be a valuable tool in assessing the sustainability of agriculture and for supporting evidence-based, sustainable rural development and land use policy contributing to reducing poverty, enabling of inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems and increasing resilience of livelihoods. GLC-SHARE will also help us understand how climate change and climate variability are impacting key natural resources as well as food production."