Monitoring land cover for resilient development

Monitoring Land Cover for Resilient Development
Image credit: Shutterstock

Take a look at this land cover photo. What do you see? Is it a forest, agriculture, water or something else?

Photo Credit: Google
Photo Credit: Google

It may seem like an irrelevant question, but it is not. Understanding land cover and land use change is important for land resource planning and for ecosystem services. This includes biodiversity conservation, water provision and purification, and resilience to climate change, among others. However, updates to land cover maps are infrequent, and classification systems can be inconsistent across years and countries.

Returning to the question in the beginning, how do we classify different land types? Working with key partners in the region is necessary to promote a coordinated approach in mapping and land classification. In March 2016, the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), along with SilvaCarbon, the US Forest Service and the Spatial Informatics Groups (SIG), brought partners from the region to begin the process of agreeing to common land classifications that could address the needs of several groups. This was part of a larger process of building a Regional Land Cover Monitoring System in the Lower Mekong Region, one of the flagship systems being created under the SERVIR-Mekong initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with NASA and implemented by ADPC.

Land cover

This work continued from 7-14 July 2016 as SERVIR-Mekong, along with SilvaCarbon, the US Forest Service and SIG, hosted a Google Earth Engine Training and a second workshop for the Regional Land Cover Monitoring System. Stakeholders worked particularly on algorithm development and reference data collection approaches. During the workshop, partners in the region convened to determine a consistent path forward in classifying different plots (or land types). This is a key step in the development of the Regional Land Cover Monitoring System, which will promote in-depth and reliable analysis on land cover issues in the Lower Mekong and provide reliable and consistent maps for the region.

workshop photo
Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and ADPC participants from the Regional Land Cover Monitoring System workshop discuss a consistent path forward in classifying different plots. Photo Credit: Watcharaporn Usomchat

As development of the Regional Land Cover Monitoring System continues, SERVIR-Mekong will be launching MAPCHA, a custom built and innovative tool that will allow for crowd sourced visual interpretation of satellite images. Along with other reference data sets from ministries and departments, image interpretations from participants throughout the Lower Mekong region will constitute a large training and validation dataset.

workshop photo
Workshop facilitator, David Saah (Associate Professor & Director of Geospatial Analysis Lab Department of Environmental Science, University of San Francisco) works with some ADPC, WCS and University Partnership Network participants in using Google Earth Engine.  Photo Credit: Watcharaporn Usomchat

With the Regional Land Cover Monitoring System, decision makers, partners, and the general public will have access to reliable information on land cover, providing evidence based data to inform land use planning for climate resilience.


SERVIR-Mekong is a unique partnership with USAID and NASA, to promote the use of publicly available space technology for resilient development in the Lower Mekong. SERVIR-Mekong is implemented by Asian Disaster Preparedness Center with Spatial Informatics Group, Stockholm Environment Institute and Deltares.