Forest monitoring

Land services

The EU has established a series of environmental directives and policies such as the Water Framework Directive, Urban Thematic Strategy and Biodiversity Strategy to protect the natural environment and manage natural resources sustainably.

Europe is also a global partner. Its policies are influenced by and have impacts on different countries and regions in the rest of the world. Climatic changes and an increasing global population put continued pressure on biodiversity. Effective management strategies are in need of up-to-date and reliable information about the state of the environment and how it is changing, not only in Europe but also around the world. 

The objective of the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service is to provide land-cover information to users in the field of environmental and other terrestrial applications.

The service builds on a series of projects developed within the Framework Programmes 6 and 7 (FP6/FP7), funded by the EC,  such as the Geoland-1 and -2 projects, on ESA’s GMES Service Element (GSE) projects such as GSE Land, GSE Forest Monitoring and the Global Monitoring for Food Security (GMFS) projects, and on activities carried out at the DG JRC. 

Land-cover map of Toulouse, France

The Land Monitoring Service started its activities in mid-2011 as part of the GMES Initial Operations (GIO). The current service (GIO-land) is articulated in three components:

  • A global component – producing land information through a wide range of biophysical parameters in near-real time and on 10-day frequency with global coverage. These parameters describe the state of vegetation (e.g. leaf area index), the energy budget (e.g. albedo) and the water cycle (e.g. soil moisture index).

  • A Pan-European component – producing land-cover and land-change maps at continental scale as well as geophysical and vegetation parameters for seasonal and annual change monitoring. Initial activities include the provision of a pan-EU land-cover map for 2012 (which is an extension of the CORINE Land Cover achieved in 2006) and of the corresponding change product between 2006 and 2012. In addition, five high-resolution layers on land-cover characteristics will be produced for artificial surfaces (imperviousness layer), forest areas, agricultural areas (grasslands), wetlands, and small water bodies.

  • A local component – aiming at providing detailed information, complementary to the products of the Pan-European component, for specific areas of interest (e.g. urban atlas, biodiversity hot spots – riparian areas).

Furthermore, the use of in situ data is particularly important to ensure the establishment of high-quality land monitoring products and services. The EEA is analysing access to in situ data and proposing models to improve access to this data via its FP7 funded GISC project.

Several projects are on-going within FP7 that explore the scope for downstream use in specialised areas, widening the range of the available Copernicus products.

Currently, all Copernicus services and projects base their activities on the provision of satellite imagery from contributing missions, made available through the Copernicus Space Component Data Access system operated by ESA since 2008.

The Sentinel satellites will soon start contributing to Copernicus, providing substantial benefits for the land monitoring applications.


In particular, Sentinel-2, with its 13 bands covering the visible to the shortwave infrared spectrum will allow an efficient mapping of vegetation at 10–20 m resolution, suitable for instance for pan-European high-resolution products. With its wide swath of 290 km and two satellites in orbit, the mission will significantly reduce the number of images needed to cover the continent and result in a very frequent revisit time (five days at the equator). 

The production of the next CORINE land-cover update will be facilitated by frequent revisit time, making the acquisition of multi-date images possible. This will allow changes to be detected more frequently.

Such frequency would also increase the possibility of getting cloud-free images, particularly in regions prone to cloud cover such as the north and tropical regions.

Sentinel-2’s high re-visit cycle also opens possibilities for producing higher-resolution bio-geophysical variables. Sentinel-3, with its medium-resolution optical and thermal infrared sensors, will be of particular relevance for the global land monitoring. This will guarantee continuity and enhancement of Envisat within an operational frame. Sentinel-3’s innovative altimeter will also allow further advancements for monitoring water levels of rivers and lakes worldwide.

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