Evaluating the national land cover database tree canopy and impervious cover estimates across the conterminous United States: a comparison with photo-interpreted estimates

Environ Manage. 2010 Sep;46(3):378-90. doi: 10.1007/s00267-010-9536-9. Epub 2010 Jul 30.


The 2001 National Land Cover Database (NLCD) provides 30-m resolution estimates of percentage tree canopy and percentage impervious cover for the conterminous United States. Previous estimates that compared NLCD tree canopy and impervious cover estimates with photo-interpreted cover estimates within selected counties and places revealed that NLCD underestimates tree and impervious cover. Based on these previous results, a wall-to-wall comprehensive national analysis was conducted to determine if and how NLCD derived estimates of tree and impervious cover varies from photo-interpreted values across the conterminous United States. Results of this analysis reveal that NLCD significantly underestimates tree cover in 64 of the 65 zones used to create the NCLD cover maps, with a national average underestimation of 9.7% (standard error (SE) = 1.0%) and a maximum underestimation of 28.4% in mapping zone 3. Impervious cover was also underestimated in 44 zones with an average underestimation of 1.4% (SE = 0.4%) and a maximum underestimation of 5.7% in mapping zone 56. Understanding the degree of underestimation by mapping zone can lead to better estimates of tree and impervious cover and a better understanding of the potential limitations associated with NLCD cover estimates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Human Activities
  • Spacecraft
  • Trees*
  • United States