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March 19th, 2008
New Portrait of Earth Shows Land Cover as Never Before

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PR — A
new global portrait taken from space details Earth’s land cover with a
resolution never before obtained. ESA, in partnership with the UN Food
and Agriculture Organisation, presented the preliminary version of the
map to scientists last week at the 2nd GlobCover User Consultation
workshop held in Rome, Italy.

Earth’s land cover has been
charted from space before, but this map, which will be made available
to the public upon its completion in July, has a resolution 10 times
sharper than any of its predecessors.

Scientists, who will
use the data to plot worldwide land-cover trends, study natural and
managed ecosystems and to model climate change extent and impacts, are
hailing the product – generated under the ESA-initiated GlobCover
project – as ‘a milestone.’

"The GlobCover system is a great
step forward in our capacities to automatically produce new global land
cover products with a finer resolution and a more detailed thematic
content than ever achieved in the past," Frédéric Achard of the
European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) said.

"This
GlobCover product is much more than a map. It is an operational
scientific and technical demonstration of the first automated land
cover mapping on a global scale and may provide the detailed
description of the land surface states needed for regional climate
modelling," said Prof. Pierre Defourny, from the Université catholique
de Louvain, who designed the land classification process.

"Land
cover data is an essential requirement of the sustainable management of
natural resources, environmental protection, food security, climate
change and humanitarian programmes," John Latham of the Food and
Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

"The GlobCover product
will be the first freely available product at 300m resolution and is
therefore a milestone product which will be fundamental to a broad
level stakeholder community."

Jaap van Woerden from the
United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said: "This map can greatly
support the work of UNEP and partners in addressing environmental
priority issues such as climate change and ecosystem management."

Prof.
Christiane Schmullius from the University of Jena in Germany said the
new GlobCover product “revolutionises global land cover mapping."

The
map is based on 20 Terabytes of imagery – equivalent to the content of
20 million books – acquired from May 2005 to April 2006 by Envisat’s
Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) instrument.

All
images then undergo a standardised processing technique developed and
operated by Medias-France/Postel, together with Brockmann Consult, the
Université catholique de Louvain and partners.

There are 22
different land cover types shown in the map, including croplands,
wetlands, forests, artificial surfaces, water bodies and permanent snow
and ice. For maximum user benefit, the map’s thematic legend is
compatible with the UN Land Cover Classification System (LCCS).

###

GlobCover,
launched in 2005, is part of ESA’s Earth Observation Data User Element
(DUE). An international network of partners is working with ESA on the
project, including the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), FAO, the
European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European
Environmental Agency (EEA), the International Geosphere-Biosphere
Programme (IGBP) and the Global Observations of Forest Cover and Global
Observations of Land Dynamics (GOFC-GOLD) Implementation Team Project
Office.

Mariangela D’Acunto (mariangela.dacunto@esa.int)
Phone: 39-069-418-0856

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