Until recently, advanced very high-resolution radiometer (AVHRR) observations were the only viable source of data for global land cover mapping. While many useful insights have been gained from analyses based on AVHRR data, the availability of moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) data with greatly improved spectral, spatial, geometric, and radiometric attributes provides significant new opportunities and challenges for remote sensing-based land cover mapping research. In this paper, we describe the algorithms and databases being used to produce the MODIS global land cover product. This product provides maps of global land cover at 1-km spatial resolution using several classification systems, principally that of the IGBP. To generate these maps, a supervised classification methodology is used that exploits a global database of training sites interpreted from high-resolution imagery in association with ancillary data. In addition to the IGBP class at each pixel, the MODIS land cover product provides several other parameters including estimates for the classification confidence associated with the IGBP label, a prediction for the most likely alternative class, and class labels for several other classification schemes that are used by the global modeling community. Initial results based on 5 months of MODIS data are encouraging. At global scales, the distribution of vegetation and land cover types is qualitatively realistic. At regional scales, comparisons among heritage AVHRR products, Landsat TM data, and results from MODIS show that the algorithm is performing well. As a longer time series of data is added to the processing stream and the representation of global land cover in the site database is refined, the quality of the MODIS land cover product will improve accordingly.
Department of Geography and Center for Remote Sensing, Boston University