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The Land Cover project by CCI science lead Prof. Defourny

Introduction to the land and the landcover CCI project
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My name is Pierre Defourny. I am professor at UC de Louvain in Belgium and the science leader of the CCI land cover. The land is a component of the earth system that we know all a little. However, the skin of the planet is very diverse, the most complex to understand and quite challenging to predict.
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The interaction between the terrestrial surface and the climate define our habitat on the planet. Land provides a basis for our livelihoods and well-being through the basic processes like the net primary production that sustain our food system and the supply of our freshwater.
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Natural processes like photosynthesis and evapotranspiration, tend to regulate the climate and the atmospheric composition through the water cycle, the energy balance, and the biogeochemical fluxes. Land surface characteristics such as Albedo and emissivity determine the amount of sun and longwave radiation absorb, reflected, or emitted by land to the atmosphere. Even the spatial patterns of land cover influence the surface roughness, driving turbulent exchanges of energy and water.
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Land cover change is a cause and a consequence of climate change. Today, human activity like agriculture is responsible for more than one third of global greenhouse gas emissions, largely from deforestation, methane emissions from livestock and rice cultivation and nitrogen emissions from fertilizers. In return, warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns modify the vegetation phenology, increase the tree mortality, contribute to the corp yield viability, reduce the freshwater availability, and put biodiversity under stress.
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At global scale, the terrestrial ecosystem absorb currently 30 percent of the anthropogenic CO2 emissions. On the other hand, land use change affects more than half of our planet and became in the last decades a major source of CO2. In many cases, land cover change has multiple impacts on land carbon cycle. For instance, tropical deforestation to expand grassland does not only release a huge stock of carbon through the forest burning. This also reduces the future for a sink effect by removing the growing trees, it increases the livestock emission and enhance the vegetation vulnerability to fire. Indeed, fire is another key land component of the carbon cycle, taking directly carbon from the biomass to the atmosphere.
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Therefore, it is not surprising that today for the Paris Agreement, land use and land cover play a prominent role in the national mitigation plans.
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Unprecedented demands on food and natural resources expand steadily in the human, the human footprint on our planet. The CCI land cover outcome showed that more than 20 percent of the natural ecosystems have been converted into cropland, increasingly affecting the Earth system. The recent increase of urban population has multiplied by two, the urban area in only 30 years. In the boreal region, permafrost is thawing fast and could potentially release a vast amount of methane into the atmosphere. Also because of this high temperature, large areas of boreal forest, bush and peat are newly exposed to the risk of fire.
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The land cover, along with the land cover Change, is an essential climate variable which allow to better quantify the land contribution to the carbon cycle and to balance the surface energy budget. For climate modeling the land cover ECV allows to assign the distribution of land cover and vegetation in terms of plant functional type as required by the Earth models. Furthermore, the CCI climate analysis toolbox allows us to investigate the interplay between the land cover, soil moisture and fire to better understand the climate change impact on the transition processes possibly explaining the spatial distribution of land cover change.
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This play a critical role to improve the process simulation, to validate the result and to anticipate possible positive feedback loops or any tipping point. The ESA CCI land cover developed and produce the longest time series of global land cover maps describing consistently the land surface in 22 classes. The key challenge was to deliver this global land cover maps, at 300 meter resolution consistently over time from 1992 to 2020 to detect in a continuous manner, the land cover changes at pixel level.
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This unique approach was only possible by reprocessing the full archive of five different satellite systems, observing the whole planet on a daily basis since 1992, and also by decoupling the land cover mapping and the land cover change detection to highlight only the actual land cover transitions from one year to another.
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Most recently, these annual global land cover maps have been also translated into different distributions of plant functional types for each pixel of the planet by complementing the CCI land cover time series with higher resolution satellite products. Now our CCI land cover team is developing a multiscale approach to simulate the climate change impact over large cities. This requires to combine very high-resolution imagery to capture the surface roughness and the urban canyon, with coarse observation describing the surrounding landscapes and their seasonality. This is indeed a major challenge to forecast the climate change impact like the so-called Urban Heat Island effect over large cities where an increasing number of people live. Thank you for your attention.

Who can better tell you about the Climate Change Initiative than some of our lead scientists? Today we listen to Prof. Pierre Defourny who is the lead scientist of the Land Cover CCI project.

Prof. Defourny will explain how land and land cover are related to climate. He will highlight the recent developments of the CCI land cover team to forecast climate impact.

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Understanding Climate Change using Satellite Data

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