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The Land Cover Classification System (LCCS) is a comprehensive, standardized a priori classification system, designed to meet specific user requirements, and created for mapping exercises, independent of the scale or means used to map. The system can be used for any land cover classification initiative anywhere in the world, using a set of independent diagnostic criteria that allow correlation with existing classifications and legends.

Land cover classes are defined by a combination of a set of independent diagnostic criteria - the so-called classifiers - that are hierarchically arranged to assure a high degree of geographical accuracy. Due to the heterogeneity of land cover, the same set of classifiers cannot be used to define all land cover types. The hierarchical structure of the classifiers may differ from one land cover type to another. Therefore, the classification has two main phases:

This approach allows the use of the most appropriate classifiers and prevents the use of inaccurate classifier combinations. To facilitate the complex classification process and ensure standardization, an innovative programme has been developed that should reduce heterogeneity between interpreters and between interpretations over time. The software assists the user to select the appropriate class using a step-by-step process, i.e. classifier by classifier. The flexible manner in which the classification is set up involves the creation of classes at different levels of the system and the optional use of modifiers, environmental attributes and specific technical attributes in combination, coupled with the tremendous number of classes possible. The software can be used as a stand-alone product or used in combination with a digital image interpretation software suite, which will allow interpretation of imagery followed by labelling of the mapping units with the land cover classes.

Further definition of the Land Cover Class can be achieved by adding attributes. Two types of attributes, which form separate levels in the classification, are distinguished:

All Primarily Vegetated land cover classes are derived from a consistent physiognomic-structural conceptual approach that combines the classifiers Life Form, Cover and Height (in (Semi-)Natural Vegetation) and Life Form (in Cultivated Areas) with Spatial Distribution. The Primarily Non-Vegetated classes have a similar approach, using classifiers that deal with surface aspects, distribution or density, and height or depth.

The classification system generates mutually exclusive land cover classes, which comprise: (1) a unique Boolean formula (a coded string of classifiers used); (2) a standard name; and (3) a unique numerical code. Both the numerical code and standard name can be used to build an automatically generated Legend, with the classes that have been created being grouped according to the main land cover categories and their domains according to the level of detail. The nomenclature can be linked to a user-defined name in any language. The advantages of the classifier, or parametric, approach are manifold. The system created is a highly flexible a priori land cover classification in which each land cover class is clearly and systematically defined, thus providing internal consistency. The system is truly hierarchical and applicable at a variety of scales. Re-arrangement of the classes based on regrouping of the classifiers used facilitates extensive use of the outputs by a wide variety of end-users. Accuracy assessment of the end product can be generated by class or by the individual classifiers forming the class. All land covers can be accommodated in this highly flexible system; the classification could therefore serve as a universally applicable reference base for land cover, thus contributing towards data harmonization and standardization


Version 2 of LCCS is an upgrade of the original version 1 (FAO, 2000) and has been developed on the experience gained from numerous FAO/UNEP and country mapping activities, including the Africover East Africa Project as well as feedback from the end-user community. The new version of the LCCS software is fully compatible with the previous version to ensure continuity of past and future LCCS mapping activities.

The modifications, upgrades and improvements in the new version of the software, LCCS2, can be divided into eight groups:

The upgrading of the software has been implemented in a manner that ensures compatibility between the old and new versions of LCCS.

The proposed modifications were made available for six months to the user community through both the LCCS and Africover Web sites, to allow comments and suggestions.

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