National Land Cover Database (NLCD)

Note: Other land cover data options are listed on the Land Use/Land Cover Data webpage.

The original National Land Cover Database (NLCD) was created in 1992 by the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics (MRLC) Consortium. The latest data were released in May 2019, and contain updated versions for 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2013, and new data for 2016.  This release also contains imperviousness, forest canopy, and shrubland rasters.

North Carolina NLCD data
Extract of North Carolina from the NLCD.


  • Nationwide coverage, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. 
  • 30 meter raster, with cells classified into one of 21 land cover classes. See Legend.
  • With the 2016 release, the intended snapshot interval is 2-3 years, beginning with 2001.
  • Landsat Thematic Mapper satellite data are used as the base imagery for the classification.
  • NLCD data are public domain, and may be freely downloaded from the MRLC website.  A version for North Carolina that has been clipped and re-projected is available from links below.
  • Much more thorough documentation and information are available on the MRLC website.
  • One very informative geoprocess which you can do with this data is to use the Tabulate Area tool within ArcGIS software to calculate the total estimated areas of various land cover classes within a polygon (ie. county, watershed, research study area).


The 2016 NLCD (released May 2019) contains the following data products:

Landcover for years 2016, 2013, 2011, 2008, 2006, 2004, 2001.  Also a Change Index "... provides a simple and comprehensive way to visualize change from all 7 dates of land cover in a single layer."*

Urban Imperviousness for years 2016, 2011, 2006, and 2001.  Imperviousness data "... represent urban impervious surfaces as a percentage of developed surface over every 30-meter pixel."  Additionally, an impervious surface descriptor layer "... identifies types of roads, core urban areas, and energy production sites for each impervious pixel to allow deeper analysis of developed features."

Tree Canopy Cover (TCC) (Note: As of May 2019, current data represent 2011.  2016 will be released in the near future). TCC data "... contain percent tree canopy estimates, as a continuous variable, for each pixel across all land covers and types and are generated by the United States Forest Service."  There are Canopy Analytical and Canopy Cartographic rasters.  "The TCC 2011 dataset has two layers: percent tree canopy cover and standard error. For the percent tree canopy cover layer, the pixel values range from 0 to 100 percent and represent the percent of the ground covered by a vertical projection of tree canopies. For the standard error layer, the pixel values range from 0 to 45 percent. The standard error represents the model uncertainty associated with the corresponding pixel in the tree canopy cover layer."  "The TCC 2011 cartographic product consists of a single layer, percent tree canopy cover and is intended for use as display imagery for backdrop purposes. The pixel values range from 0 to 100 percent and represent the percent of the ground covered by a vertical projection of tree canopies."

Schrubland (Note: Only created for Western US areas)  Data "... characterize the percentage of each 30-meter pixel in the Western United States covered by shrub, herbaceous, bare ground, litter, sagebrush, big sagebrush and annual herbaceous, along with estimating shrub height and sagebrush height."

* All quoted statements are from the MRLC website or the product metadata.

Public Availability

Data may be freely downloaded or streamed using web services.  See for download options, and for WMS streaming links.

NCSU Data Access

North Carolina versions that have been extracted from each of the above products are available on the Geodata Server under /fedgov/mrlc/nlcd2016release with accompanying metadata, readme files, and layer style files.  A single zip file named contains all the data, while another zip file named has just the 2016 landcover data.

On campus link      Off campus link

Each of these are Erdas Imagine formatted image files (*.img), extracted using the official NC state boundary, and projected to NC Stateplane NAD83 (2011) Meters, as shown in the graphic at the top of this page.

Superseded Versions

As of June 2019, previous NLCD land cover versions for 2001, 2006, and 2011 that are now superseded by the 2016 release, are available from the Geodata Server under the path /fedgov/mrlc/superseded.  These data will likely be removed in a few years.

1992 Eastern U.S.

1992 data for other eastern U.S. states is available on CD-ROM (G3701 .A4 1992 .G46) in the GIS Cabinet, DH Hill Reference Area. Data can also be made available upon request to Data Services. The following image shows data organization by CD-ROM:


Related Resources

Land Use/Land Cover Data

Digital Satellite Imagery

Digital Aerial Imagery and Orthophotographs