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Technical Thematic Report No. 3. - Guidance for the preparation of ESTR products – Land classification scheme for the ecosystem status and trends report

Land Cover Terminology Used in National Analyses Prepared for ESTR


Seven analyses of national land cover data were carried out to provide information for ESTR (Table 1) and must therefore be taken into account in the development of a consistent land cover terminology for use in ESTR technical reports. These land cover analyses have legendsFootnote6 which are based on one of two different land cover classification schemes7, the Federal Geographic Data Committee – National Vegetation Classification Standard (FGDC-NVCS) (Grossman et al., 1998) or the National Forest Inventory (NFI) Land Cover Classification Scheme (National Forest Inventory, 2004), or have been developed specifically for the analysis for ESTR. Land cover information provided for ESTR comes from one of two sources: the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing analyzed by TerreVista Earth Imaging (see Ahern et al., 2011 for final report); or the NFI. Data from these two sources are collected differently, with data from Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing obtained from satellite imagery and data from the NFI from aerial photography and field plots. These sources provide data at different resolutions; however this is not necessarily an issue if the classification schemes used are hierarchical and crosswalk easily. The difference in resolution of the data is reflected in the level of classification.

Table 1. Description of the national land cover analyses prepared for ESTR.
Analysis #TitleDescription
1Land cover change in Canada, 1985-2005Coarse resolution (1 km) land cover and land cover change analysis for 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, and 2005 based on data from Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) sensors. This analysis is included in the ESTR technical thematic report by Ahern et al., (2011).
2Land cover in Canada, 20058A 250 m resolution map of Canada for the year 2005 based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor, analyzed by ecozone+.
3Arctic Canada land cover, circa 2000Two medium resolution (250 m) maps of land cover in the Arctic Ecozone+ circa 2000 based on Landsat satellite data. This analysis is included in the ESTR technical thematic report by Ahern et al., (2011).
4Land Cover Change in the Peace Athabasca Delta8Medium resolution land cover change analysis in the Peace-Athabasca Delta based on Landsat data. Changes were analysed from 1975 to 1992, and from 1992 to 1999.
5Golden Horseshoe and lower Fraser Valley urban case studiesMedium resolution land cover change analysis in two areas (the lower Fraser Valley in the Pacific Maritime Ecozone+ of British Columbia  and the Golden Horseshoe in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone+) based on landsat data. These case studies focus on increases in urban area between 1970, 1990, and 2005/2007. These analyses are included in the ESTR technical thematic report by Ahern et al., (2011).
6Rangeland Case Study8Medium resolution land cover change analysis (with a focus on rangeland) based on landsat data for an area of the mixed grass prairie in southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan between 1972, 1989, and 2001.
7NFI Land CoverLand cover and other forest information from the NFI for each ecozone+. This information is based on a combination of systematic field surveys and aerial photographs carried out by the Provinces and Territories collected through standardized procedures and compiled for the National Forest Inventory.

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Analysis 1: Land Cover Change

The Land Cover Change analysis uses a coarse 12-class legend, which is a condensed version of the 31-class legend developed by the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing for their 1995 land cover map of Canada (Cihlar et al., 1999 cited in Latifovic and Pouliot, 2005). The classes are:

  1. Conifer forest
  2. Deciduous forest
  3. Mixed forest
  4. Disturbance (Fire)
  5. Shrubland
  6. Grassland
  7. Low vegetation and barren
  8. Cropland
  9. Cropland/woodland
  10. Urban and built-up
  11. Water
  12. Snow/ice

As this is a coarse legend, it is easy to crosswalk with other legends.  Note that in the technical thematic report for ESTR on remote sensing (Ahern et al., 2011), classes 1, 2, and 3 were combined and named “Forest”,  class 4 was renamed “Fire Scars”, class 7 was renamed “Low Vegetation and Barren” and classes 8 and 9 were combined and named “Agricultural Land”.

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Analysis 2: 2005 Land Cover9

The 2005 Land Cover analysis is based on data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor. The land cover map was first published by the Canadian Centre for Remote Sensing (2008) and only minor modifications were made for ESTR. The land cover legend consists of 39 classes and is derived from the FGDC-NVCS (Grossman et al., 1998).

The FGDC-NVCS is hierarchical consisting of nine levels primarily based on vegetation (Table 2) with classification categories designed to be mutually exclusive. Revisions to the classification scheme accepted in 1997 had been proposed and were under review at the time of writing of this report (Peet, 2007). The legend used for the 2005 Land Cover analysis had not been finalized at the time this report was written, therefore the specific classes were not used in the determination of a land classification scheme for ESTR. Legends used for other analyses based on the FGDC-NVCS classification scheme were, however, used for reference.

Table 2. FGDC-NVCS classification hierarchy.
 LevelDefinition
 -DivisionSeparates earth cover into either vegetated or non-vegetated categories
 -OrderRefines the Vegetated Division by dominant life form (tree, shrub, dwarf shrub, herbaceous, or non-vascular).
Physiognomic Levels
(Based on life form, cover, structure, leaf
type of the vegetation)
ClassDefined by the relative percent canopy cover of the tree, shrub, dwarf shrub, herb, and nonvascular life form in the uppermost strata during the peak of the growing season.
Physiognomic Levels
(Based on life form, cover, structure, leaf
type of the vegetation)
SubclassDetermined by the predominant leaf phenology of woody plants and the leaf type and periodicity of herbaceous plants.
Physiognomic Levels
(Based on life form, cover, structure, leaf
type of the vegetation)
GroupDefined by a combination of factors relating to climate, leaf morphology and leaf phenology.
Physiognomic Levels
(Based on life form, cover, structure, leaf
type of the vegetation)
SubgroupSeparates Natural/Semi-natural types from the Planted/Cultivated types.
Physiognomic Levels
(Based on life form, cover, structure, leaf
type of the vegetation)
FormationIdentifies ecological groupings of vegetation units with broadly defined environmental (for example, hydrology) and additional physiognomic factors.
Floristic Levels
(Derived from field data)
AllianceA physiognomically uniform group of Associations sharing one or more diagnostic (dominant, differential, indicator, or character) species which, as a rule, are found in the uppermost stratum of the vegetation.
Floristic Levels
(Derived from field data)
AssociationA physiognomically uniform group of vegetation stands that share one or more diagnostic (dominant, differential, indicator, or character) overstory and understory species. These elements occur as repeatable patterns of assemblages across the landscape, and are generally found under similar habitat conditions. The Association refers to existing vegetation, not a potential vegetation type.

Source: adapted from the Federal Geographic Data Committee  (1997)

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Analysis 3: Arctic Canada Vegetation Cover

The Arctic Canada vegetation cover legend is also based on the FGDC-NVCS classification scheme (see Table 2). The legend includes the following classes:

  1. Tussock graminoid tundra
  2. Wet sedge
  3. Moist to dry non-tussock graminoid/dwarf shrub tundra
  4. Dry graminoid prostrate dwarf shrub tundra
  5. Low shrub
  6. Tall shrub
  7. Prostrate dwarf shrub
  8. Sparsely vegetated bedrock
  9. Sparsely vegetated till colluvium
  10. Bare soil with croptogam crust - frost boils
  11. Wetlands
  12. Barren
  13. Snow and/or Ice

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Analysis 4: Land Cover Change in the Peace Athabasca Delta10

Due to the complexity of the vegetation and wetland patterns in the Peace Athabasca Delta, this case study uses a coarse classification legend which directly corresponds to the Land Cover Change analysis (see Analysis 1 on page 3) with the exclusion of the cropland, cropland/woodland, urban and built-up, and snow/ice categories as these classes are not present in the Peace Athabasca Delta. The ‘water’ class is further divided into dark water, turbid water, and aquatic vegetation. Dark water can be interpreted as flowing water, while turbid water can be interpreted as stagnant water. The classes are:

  1. Conifer forest
  2. Deciduous forest
  3. Mixed forest
  4. Recent fire
  5. Shrubland
  6. Grassland
  7. Low vegetation and barren
  8. Dark water
  9. Turbid water
  10. Aquatic vegetation

Wetlands are classified in more detail in the NFI data (see Analysis 7 on page 6). The Canadian Wetland Classification Scheme (National Wetlands Working Group, 1997) is discussed on page 8 and is compared with the NFI classification of wetlands on page 6.

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Analysis 5: Two Urban Case Studies

Two urban case studies were conducted for the Lower Fraser Valley in British Columbia and the Golden Horseshoe in Ontario. Landsat data for these areas was visually classified under a coarse classification legend created specifically for this analysis. The classes used are:

  1. Urban or barren
  2. Forest or shrub
  3. Agriculture
  4. Grassland
  5. Wetland
  6. Open water
  7. Snow or ice

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Analysis 6: Rangelands Case Study11

The Rangelands case study is also based on Landsat data which has been visually classified. Visual classification in this case was preferred because subtle differences in colour, shape, texture, and context used to classify an area may be overlooked by spectral or spectral/spatial classification. The classes used in this analysis are:

  1. Rangeland
  2. Dryland agriculture
  3. Irrigated agriculture
  4. Urban areas
  5. Water

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Analysis 7: National Forest Inventory Land Cover

Land cover information provided by the NFI uses the NFI land cover classification scheme based on the British Columbia Land Cover Classification Scheme (BC Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management, 2002) and designed to be compatible with other classification schemes. Like the FGDC-NVCS, this scheme is hierarchical with mutually exclusive categories, and is based on existing vegetation. The NFI data are based on vegetation structure and not individual species. For a breakdown of the NFI hierarchy, see Appendix 1. In the NFI classification scheme, each area is classified by landscape position (either wetland, upland, or alpine). It is the only scheme used in national ESTR land cover analyses that categorizes Wetland Types (see page 8 for a description of ‘Wetland Class’, ‘Wetland Form’ and ‘Wetland Type’). Distinctions among wetlands classified by the NFI data can be made by vegetation and land cover type which correspond directly with the Wetland Types of the Canadian Wetland Classification (Table 3). The NFI does not distinguish explicitly between Wetland Classes (such as Fen or Bog), however. Table 4 compares the two classification systems at this more refined level.

Table 3. Comparison of Wetland Types of the Canadian Wetland Classification and NFI wetland classes.
Canadian Wetland Classification
System Types
NFI Wetland Classes
Treed – ConiferousTreed – Coniferous
Treed – HardwoodTreed – Broadleaf
Treed – MixedTreed – Mixed
Shrub – Low (0.1-0.5m)Shrub – Low (<2 m)
Shrub – Tall (>1.5 m)Shrub – Tall (>2 m)
Shrub – MixedN/A
Graminoid – GrassHerb – Graminoid
Graminoid – Low RushHerb – Graminoid
Graminoid – Tall RushHerb – Graminoid
Graminoid – ReedHerb – Graminoid
Graminoid – SedgeHerb – Graminoid
LichenBryoid – Lichen
MossBryoid – Moss
Floating AquaticN/A
Submerged AquaticN/A
Non-VegetatedNon-Vegetated

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Table 4. Comparison of Wetland Classes of the Canadian Wetland Classification and NFI wetland classes.
Canadian Wetland Classification System ClassesNFI Wetland Classes
Bog (Peatland)Treed Wetland
Shrub Wetland
Bryoid Wetland
Fen (Peatland)Herb: Graminoid Wetland
Shrub Wetland
Swamp (Peatland or Mineral Wetland)Treed Wetland
Shrub Wetland
Marsh (Mineral Wetland)Herb: Graminoid Wetland
Herb: Forb Wetland
Shrub Wetland
Shallow Water (Mineral Wetland)N/A

Note that the NFI does not distinguish between peatlands and mineral wetlands.

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Footnotes

Footnote 6

A classification legend is a list of classes usually (but not always) derived from a classification scheme for a particular product. Only those classes relevant to a particular project are included (Wulder & Trisalyn 2003).

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Footnote 7

A classification scheme is a tool designed for the classification of a given object (i.e. polygon). It usually takes the form of a decision tree with classification levels (Wulder & Trisalyn 2003)

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Footnote 8

This analysis was not used in ESTR, but the classification scheme still played a role in the development of the ESTR land classification scheme presented in this report.

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Footnote 9

A classification legend is a list of classes usually (but not always) derived from a classification scheme for a particular product. Only those classes relevant to a particular project are included (Wulder & Trisalyn 2003).

Return to footnote 9

Footnote 10

This analysis was not used in ESTR, but the classification scheme presented here still played a role in the development of the ESTR land classification scheme.

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Footnote 11

This analysis was not used in ESTR, but the classification scheme presented here still played a role in the development of the ESTR land classification scheme.

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