Public Release: 

Change happens: New maps reveal land cover change over 5 years across North America

Latest maps from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation's North American Land Change Monitoring System show impact of natural and human-caused events

Commission for Environmental Cooperation

This news release is available in French and Spanish.

Montreal, 11 March 2014--A new set of maps featured in the CEC's North American Environmental Atlas depicts land cover changes in North America's forests, prairies, deserts and cities, using satellite images from 2005 and 2010. These changes can be attributed to forest fires, insect infestation, urban sprawl and other natural or human-caused events. Produced by the North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS), a trinational collaborative effort facilitated by the CEC, these maps and accompanying data can be used to address issues such as climate change, carbon sequestration, biodiversity loss, and changes in ecosystem structure and function.

This project, which seeks to address land cover change at a North American scale, was initiated at the 2006 Land Cover Summit, in Washington, DC. Since then, specialists from government agencies in Canada, Mexico and the United States have worked together to harmonize their land cover classification systems into 19 classes that provide a uniform view of the continent at a consistent 250-meter scale.


To view examples of significant land cover changes in British Colombia, California, and Cancun, slide the green bars on the maps, found at:

To view the full 2005-2010 land cover change map, visit and click on "Terrestrial Ecosystems" on the left. Under "Land Cover," click on the plus sign next to "2005-2010 land cover change" to add the map layer to North America. Then zoom in and take a look at all the purple patches--these are the areas of North America where land cover has changed over the five-year period.

North American Land Change Monitoring System

NALCMS is a joint project between Natural Resources Canada/Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation (NRCan/CCMEO), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), and three Mexican organizations: the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía--Inegi), the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad--Conabio), and the National Forestry Commission of Mexico (Comisión Nacional Forestal--Conafor), supported by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

The North American Environmental Atlas

The North American Environmental Atlas brings together maps, data and interactive map layers that can be used to identify priority areas to conserve biodiversity, track cross-border transfers of pollutants, monitor CO2 emissions across major transportation routes and predict the spread of invasive species. Land Cover 2010 and Land Cover Change 2005-2010 are the latest in a series of maps that harmonize geographic information across North America's political boundaries to depict significant environmental issues at a continental scale.

About the CEC

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) is an intergovernmental organization that supports the cooperative environmental agenda of Canada, Mexico and the United States to green North America's economy, address climate change by promoting a low-carbon economy, and protect its environment and the health of its citizens. The CEC is composed of three bodies: a Council, representing the governments of the three member countries, a Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) that advises the Council and serves as a liaison with the public, and a Secretariat that supports the Council and JPAC and prepares independent reports. The CEC brings together governments, civil society, and businesses to develop innovative North American solutions to global environmental challenges. Find out more at:

CEC initiatives are undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada through the federal Department of Environment, the Government of the United States of America through the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Government of the United States of Mexico, through the Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales.

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