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Home - Country - Land cover monitoring


Land cover describes the physical material of the Earth, which is different to land use that describes the human use of the land; nevertheless both terms are related to each other and many projects aim at land use and land cover mapping.

Land cover  | Land use Land cover  | Land use
Consolidated surface  | Industrial Tropical forest  | Conservation area
Land cover  | Land use Land cover  | Land use
Pasture  | Recreative area Water  | Reservoir

Land cover is an important parameter for driving models in different fields of science such as climate studies, hydrology, and biology. Land cover maps are needed for reporting of land management and change at national to international levels for strategic decision making. Spatially detailed land cover maps are frequently used in planning.

At the global scale land cover forms one the 13 terrestrial essential climate variables (ECV) as land cover changes affect and are affected by climate (GCOS 2006, GTOS 2009). For instance, a large-scale land cover change such as a forest-to-shrubland conversion due to land management decisions changes the local to regional temperature and precipitation patterns as there is less potential to retain water in the near sub-surface and vegetation. On the other hand, global warming alters the arrangement of land cover directly, in particular for ecotones (transition zones) or indirectly e.g., by higher fire frequencies.

Besides the spatial distribution of the land cover it is also important to generate knowledge about its change which can be presented as maps to spatially indicate where changes occur and in form of statistics to summarize area gain and loss and class transitions. There are several change detection studies for Mexico which either specifically focus on forests or land cover changes in general, but results vary due to differences in the study area, time of analysis, input data, methodologies for mapping and deriving change, thematic detail of land cover classes, cartographic issues such as projection, mapping scale or resolution and minimum mapping unit, etc. A number of studies show a summary of results and limitations of deforestation and land cover studies for Mexico (Couturier et al. 2012, Colditz et al. 2014a, and Mas et al. 2004) as well as recent change patterns (Colditz et al. 2014b, Bonilla-Moheno et al. 2013).

Total gain and loss for land cover changes in Mexico using 250 m spatial resolution MODIS data between 2005 and 2010. The results are presented in percent with the total area in square kilometers at the end of each bar. Results of the North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS).

Change matrix
Gains and losses with class transitions
Story map of land cover change
between 2005 and 2010

The North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS) detected change over a 5-year period (2005-2010) using MODIS data with a spatial resolution of 250 m. The total area of Mexico affected by change was 7,023 km2 (0.36%). The bar chart graphically shows total gain and loss for each class and allows a general interpretation of land cover changes between 2005 y 2010. For instance, the class with the highest total change is Cropland with almost 30% of all losses and nearly 20% of all gains. An equally high loss was calculated for Tropical or sub-tropical shrubland. Many classes show mainly gains, e.g. Urban and built-up or Tropical and sub-tropical grassland, or losses such as all forest classes. For further information please click at the symbols to see the change matrix, gains and losses with class transitions and spatial changes in story maps.


CONABIO is involved in several ongoing and completed land cover projects at different spatial scales and extents. At fine and medium spatial resolution (5-30 m) CONABIO produces wall-to-wall national coverage of land cover within the framework of the United Nations (UN) Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD). CONABIO’s land cover activities at the coarse spatial resolution (250-500 m) are embedded in continental-scale projects.

  • Referencias

Bonilla-Moheno, M., Redo, D.J., Aide, T.M., Clark, M.L., Grau, H.R., 2013. Vegetation change and land tenure in Mexico: A country-wide analysis. Land Use Policy. 30 (1): 355–364.

Colditz, R.R., Llamas, R.M., Ressl, R.A., 2014a. Detecting change areas in Mexico between 2005 and 2010 using 250 m MODIS images. IEEE Journal on Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observation and Remote Sensing, 7 (8): 3358-3372.

Colditz, R.R., Pouliot, D., Llamas R.M., Homer, C., Latifovic, R., Ressl. R.A., Meneses Tovar, C., Victoria Hernandez, A., Richardson, K., 2014b. North American-wide land cover change detection between 2005 and 2010 with 250 m MODIS data. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing, 80 (10): 918-924.

Couturier, S., Núñez, J.M., Kolb, M., 2012. Measuring tropical deforestation with error margins: A method for REDD monitoring in southeastern Mexico. En: P. Sudarshana, (Ed), Tropical Forests, INTECH, Nueva York, NY, EEUU, pp. 269–296.

GCOS. 2006. Systematic observation requirements for satellite-based products for climate. Supplemental details to the satellite-based component of the Implementation Plan for the Global Observing System for Climate in Support of the UNFCCC. GCOS-107, September 2006. Available at www.wmo.int/pages/prog/gcos/Publications/gcos-107.pdf .

GTOS. 2009. Assessment of the status of the development of the standards for the terrestrial essential climate variables – ECV-T9: Land cover. GTOS-64. Available at www.fao.org/gtos/doc/ECVs/T09/T09.pdf

Mas, J.F., Velázquez, A., Díaz-Gallegos, J.R., Mayorga-Saucedo, R., Alcántara, C., Bocco, G., Castro, R., Fernández, T., Pérez-Vega, A., 2004. Assessing land use/cover changes: A nationwide multidate spatial database for Mexico. International  Journal of Applied Earth Observation and Geoinformation. 5 (4): 249–261.


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