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United States Launches New Global Initiative to Track Changes in Land Cover and Use

Data-Sharing Will Assist Land-Managers Worldwide BEIJING, CHINA -- Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes, co-leading the U.S. delegation to the 2010 Group on Earth Observations (GEO) summit, today announced that the United States is launching a new global initiative aimed at developing the first-ever comprehensive and up-to-date database of 30-meter satellite imagery that will show changes in land cover and land uses worldwide. Hayes was joined in the announcement by Sherburne Abbott, Associate Director for Environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and GEO Co-Chair for the United States.

"The Global Land-Cover Data Initiative aims to provide land-managers, decision-makers and communities around the globe with critical information about changes to land use and land cover," Hayes told the delegates from 85 countries and the European Commission at the intergovernmental GEO VII Ministerial Summit meeting in Beijing. "This type of sharing of data and technology can help us make wise decision about how best to build a sustainable future, protect our environment, and tackle challenges like pollution and climate change," he said.

More than 80 percent of the imagery for the Global Land-Cover Data Initiative can be obtained with Landsat, a satellite program operated by Interior's U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with NASA. Hayes asked international partners at the GEO summit to assist with developing the remaining information that would be needed for a comprehensive global land-cover database.

Today's announcement of the Global Land-Cover Data Initiative follows the announcement on Wednesday of SilvaCarbon, a separate U.S. initiative designed to strengthen global capacity to understand, monitor, and manage forest and terrestrial carbon. (See www.ostp.gov.)

"These investments in the science will promote a better understanding not only of the changes in land cover, but also of the effectiveness of various efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions from land use change," Abbott noted. "They can thus help promote transparency in national and international mitigation actions in this critical sector, and strengthen multilateral efforts to combat climate change as they inform countries on the best ways to design and improve such policies going forward." 

Although moderate- resolution global land cover initiatives have been underway for some time and have provided important synoptic global land-cover data, the proposed initiative is based on the fact that higher-resolution (30m) global land cover datasets would permit detection of land change at the scale of most human activity--where change most commonly occurs--and would increase flexibility in environmental modeling. The higher resolution thus is particularly important for studies of ecosystem fragmentation and degradation and ultimately will improve the comparability of assessments conducted across the globe.

The 30-meter resolution will produce several land-cover data products for the international community. The first set of products will describe the Earth's land cover conditions as of 2010, and will include:

  1. A 2010 global land-cover characteristics baseline providing quantitative measures of six major land-cover characteristics-- percent tree, shrub, herbaceous, surface water and wetness, snow/ice, or barren land-cover. This should be completed by December 2012.
  2. A 2010 global map of land-cover and land-use types-such as such as urban and built-up areas, agriculture, forests, grasslands, shrublands, water bodies, wetlands, snow and ice, and barren areas-- using the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization classification system. This global layer should be completed by December 2013.
Once the baselines are established, it is envisioned that the land-cover characteristics product will be updated annually and the land-cover-type map every five years.
Eight U.S. federal agencies, along with representatives of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, joined the Deputy Secretary of the Interior in the U.S. delegation to the GEO VII Ministerial Summit in Beijing as a demonstration of U.S. commitment to GEO and to Earth observations.  

Some 85 nations, the European Commission and 58 international organizations are coordinating their Earth observation assets and strategies through GEO.

GEO is building the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, or GEOSS, in order to address nine priorities of critical importance to addressing global challenges and ensuring sustainable economic development. They are agriculture, biodiversity, climate, disasters, ecosystems, energy, health, water and weather. GEO was established in 2005.

"At the GEO summit, the international community joins together in a science and technology partnership aimed at improving the prosperity, health, and sustainability of communities around the globe," Hayes said. The summit today marked the mid-point of GEO's 10-year effort to build the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). The GEO Plenary session met Nov. 3-4.

GEO is co-chaired by China, the European Commission (EC), South Africa and the United States. They are represented by Zheng Guoguang, Administrator of the China Meteorological Administration; Manuela Soares, Environment Director in the EC's Research Directorate General; Phil Mjwara, Director General of the Department of Science and Technology, South Africa; and Sherburne Abbott, Associate Director for Environment, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

For more information on Landsat, see a USGS report: http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2010/3026/ and sample earth images that show environmental change, including images of Beijing, where the summit has been taking place: http://earthshots.usgs.gov.

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