Detailed and accurate land cover and land cover change information is needed for South America because the continent is in constant flux, experiencing some of the highest rates of land cover change and forest loss in the world. The land cover data available for the entire continent are too coarse (250 m to 1 km) for resource managers, government and non-government organizations, and Earth scientists to develop conservation strategies, formulate resource management options, and monitor land cover dynamics. We used Landsat 30 m satellite data of 2010 and prepared the land cover database of South America using state-of-the-science remote sensing techniques. We produced regionally consistent and locally relevant land cover information by processing a large volume of data covering the entire continent. Our analysis revealed that in 2010, 50% of South America was covered by forests, 2.5% was covered by water, and 0.02% was covered by snow and ice. The percent forest area of South America varies from 9.5% in Uruguay to 96.5% in French Guiana. We used very high resolution (<5 m) satellite data to validate the land cover product. The overall accuracy of the 2010 South American 30-m land cover map is 89% with a Kappa coefficient of 79%. Accuracy of barren areas needs to improve possibly using multi-temporal Landsat data. An update of land cover and change database of South America with additional land cover classes is needed. The results from this study are useful for developing resource management strategies, formulating biodiversity conservation strategies, and regular land cover monitoring and forecasting.
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