Paris, March 18 : A new global portrait by ESA (European Space Agency), taken from space, details Earth's land cover with a resolution never before obtained.
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.
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.
There are 22 different land cover types shown in the map, including croplands, wetlands, forests, artificial surfaces, water bodies and permanent snow and ice.
"Land cover data is an essential requirement of the sustainable management of natural resources, environmental protection, food security, climate change and humanitarian programmes," said John Latham of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
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 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," said John Latham of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
According to Prof. Pierre Defourny, from the Universite catholique de Louvain, who designed the land classification process, "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."
"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," said Frederic Achard of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC).
According to Jaap van Woerden from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), "This map can greatly support the work of UNEP and partners in addressing environmental priority issues such as climate change and ecosystem management."