Most applications of land cover maps that have been derived from satellite data over the Arctic require higher thematic detail than available in current global maps. A range of application studies has been reviewed, including up-scaling of carbon fluxes and pools, permafrost feature mapping and transition monitoring. Early land cover mapping studies were driven by the demand to characterize wildlife habitats. Later, in the 1990s, up-scaling of in situ measurements became central to the discipline of land cover mapping on local to regional scales at several sites across the Arctic. This includes the Kuparuk basin in Alaska, the Usa basin and the Lena Delta in Russia. All of these multi-purpose land cover maps have been derived from Landsat data. High resolution maps (from optical satellite data) serve frequently as input for the characterization of periglacial features and also flux tower footprints in recent studies. The most used map to address circumpolar issues is the CAVM (Circum Arctic Vegetation Map) based on AVHRR (1 km) and has been manually derived. It provides the required thematic detail for many applications, but is confined to areas north of the treeline, and it is limited in spatial detail. A higher spatial resolution circumpolar land cover map with sufficient thematic content would be beneficial for a range of applications. Such a land cover classification should be compatible with existing global maps and applicable for multiple purposes. The thematic content of existing global maps has been assessed by comparison to the CAVM and regional maps. None of the maps provides the required thematic detail. Spatial resolution has been compared to used classes for local to regional applications. The required thematic detail increases with spatial resolution since coarser datasets are usually applied over larger areas covering more relevant landscape units. This is especially of concern when the entire Arctic is addressed. A spatial resolution around 30 m has been shown to be suitable for a range of applications. This implies that the current Landsat-8, as well as Sentinel-2 missions would be adequate as input data. Recent studies have exemplified the value of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) in tundra regions. SAR missions may be therefore of added value for large-scale high latitude land cover mapping.
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