Land Use/Land Cover Data

Land Use/Land Cover Example

Land Use/Land Cover data refers to data that is a result of classifying raw satellite data into "land use and land cover" (lulc) categories based on the return value of the satellite image. There are not very many lulc datasets because a)satellite data acquisition is usually very expensive, and b)the classification process is very labor intensive. Most lulc data products are released several years after the satellite images were taken, and thus out of date to a certain extent when they are released. Nonetheless, lulc provides a very valuable method for determining the extents of various land uses and cover types, such as urban, forested, shrubland, agriculture, etc.

Land use/land cover data are most commonly in a raster or grid data structure, with each cell having a value that corresponds to a certain classification. This structure allows for creating summary tables and performing suitability analyses. Sometimes lulc data is converted to a vector format, but file sizes become very large by doing so.

The term "land use/land cover" (lulc) is a general term, while an early USGS project, which is discussed below, uses the name "Land Use and Land Cover" (LULC).

Summary Table of Land Use/Land Cover Collections

The table below summarizes various available land use/land cover collections.

Collection Name and Links Usage Notes
National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD)

See the Libraries' NLCD webpage for full details and access instructions. Also see GIS Lookup Detailed Data Record.

Currently (as of 2019), the NLCD is the most current and detailed land cover data for North Carolina, as well as much of the US.

  • 30m resolution
  • Nationwide availability from The National Map (USGS)
  • 1992, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016¬†imagery dates
  • 21 land cover classes
  • Also available: forest canopy and impervious surface extracts; 1992-2001 Change Analysis
US Coastal Land Cover Data

NOAA's Coastal Change Analysis Program (C-CAP) has produced and released Land Cover, Forest Fragmentation Land Cover, and Land Cover Change data for the coastal portions of the United States approximately every five years since the 1970's.


  • 30m resolution
  • 25 LC categories, with more detailed up-to-date wetlands than currently available in other national products
  • 1975, 1985, 1992, 1996, 2001, 2006, 2010, and 2016 (vary by location)
  • Formats: IMG, GeoTIFF, GoogleEarth KMZ (can be converted to GRID)
  • 85% overall target accuracy
Gap Analysis Program (GAP) Land Cover Data

Numerous land cover datasets are available from the nationwide effort to asses wildlife habitat

Southeast Region Data, including NC

North Carolina Statewide Land Use/Land Cover (1996)

See the Libraries' Detailed Data Record in GIS Lookup.

  • 30m resolution
  • An unfiltered version of the '96 data exists - see the Data Record.
  • Vectorized versions of the '96 data are in BasinPro 8
Neuse River Basin Land cover/Land use

See the Libraries' Neuse River Basin land cover/land use webpage for full details and access instructions.

  • 15 meter cell resolution
  • 1998-1999 source imagery
Land Use / Land Cover - TM (APES 1987)

Metadata | FTP Download (NCSU Only). Contact Data Services for more details.

  • 30m resolution
  • Created for the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study (APES)
  • Only covers approx. the eastern 1/3 of NC.
USGS Historical Land Use and Land Cover, 1970's - 1980's

See the Enhanced Historical USGS Land Use and Land Cover guide for more information and downloads.

NC LULC in 1:250K quad tiles: Primary Source Metadata | FTP Download (NCSU Only).

  • Historical data based on manual interpretation of 1970's and 1980's aerial photos and secondary sources.
  • Data may be downloaded for the US in polygon and raster formats from this USGS site.¬†
  • Updated metadata contains this advice: "Note that this is ** photo interpreted ** land use data, it should not be compared directly (or compared with great care!) with products like NLCD that classify landcover pixel by pixel using automated methods."
Historical Land Cover and Land Use, 1700-1990

International Satellite Land Surface Climatology Project (ISLSCP II), "developed to provide the global change community with historical land use estimates."

See website, with documentation, download links, and map visualizations.

  • Global Extent, very small scale