COOL Classroom 2.1

Discover Land Use vs. Land Cover


Land use and land cover are 2 two approaches for describing what is on a particular piece of land. Land use is a description of the way that humans are utilizing any particular piece of land for one or many purposes. Land cover is the physical material on the surface of any piece of land. For example, land that is used for recreation can be labeled as a ‘park’ land use. Meanwhile, the land cover may be ‘forest’ or ‘grass’ or some other combination depending on the nature of the park. Together land use and land cover information provide a good indication of the landscape condition and processes that are occurring at a particular place.

One of the most effective ways to map land use and cover is through the use of remote sensing imagery collected from satellites and aircraft. Remote sensing satellites orbit at hundreds of miles above the earth continually imaging the surface and transmitting the images back to ground stations for use by the research community. This technology is an excellent way to monitor the condition of land throughout the globe. Photography taken from airplanes is also useful, especially where greater detail of the land surface is needed. New satellite sensors are now approaching the detail once provided exclusively by aerial photography. Advanced computer processing techniques allow the images to be combined with other environmental data sets to map land cover and to monitor changes that are occurring over time.

The following Land Cover Classification system was used to map and categorize different land cover types in the Barnegat Bay watershed:

  • Developed Land: urban to suburban land with a significant amount of developed or impervious surface (i.e., roads, buildings, parking lots)
  • Cultivated/Grassland: agricultural land with active or abandoned cropland, pastures or hayfields or vacant, cleared land
  • Upland Forest: oak and pine forest growing on drier land
  • Bare Land: land with little to no vegetation including sand/gravel mines, beaches
  • Freshwater Wetland: freshwater marshes or wooded swamps
  • Coastal Wetland: tidal saltwater/brackish marshes
  • Water: freshwater lakes/ponds or coastal bays