Ever more businesses are using land use and land cover (LULC) maps to improve their processes, discover efficiencies, and save money. Find out how an LULC map can help your organization.
- LULC maps are used by a growing number of businesses in different industries
- Land cover mapping provides unique insights that are unavailable elsewhere
- Learn what exactly LULC is, and how the maps are built
- Read examples of how LULC maps can be used in different industries
Poor information equals poor decision-making – this is a well established principle in businesses of any kind. Investing with limited or vague data is risky. You’re likely to waste time, money, and effort.
So, for any organization that needs to consider the physical environment when making business decisions, it’s vital to have the best possible understanding of the reality ‘on the ground’. And this is where land use and land cover (LULC) maps help.
LULC maps have existed for decades, but until recently have mainly been used by governments, international organizations, academia and scientific institutions. However, thanks to falling costs and improving technology, LULC maps are now far more easily accessible. And innovative businesses are increasingly using the technology to improve their operations.
What is LULC?
LULC stands for land use and land cover. It refers to the classification of natural and man-made features on the Earth’s surface. Where ‘land use’ describes human activities and structures (such as agriculture, residential, or commercial), ‘land cover’ refers to the physical material at the surface (like forests, water, or asphalt).
An LULC map gives the viewer a clear indication of what the land in a map is used for and what’s on the surface. Compare this to a traditional physical map, and the benefits become clearer. For example, a physical map can tell you where there are towns and green space. But it can’t tell you how you use that space. Is that patch of green a park? A farm? A swamp? By contrast, an LULC map will give you a more detailed view of what land is used for. And that can be very helpful for all kinds of decision-making.
The way we make LULC maps is undergoing a revolution
Until relatively recently, creating an LULC map was extremely time consuming. To build a land cover map, cartographers would conduct field surveys and physically visit sites to classify what was there.
Today, LULC maps are primarily built using satellite imagery (the first LULC map to be created this way was in 1972) which is fed into a GIS system and orthorectified, and the different types of land use or land cover appear as layers.
For many years the classification process remained highly manual and expensive, with researchers analyzing images and tagging sections of a map according to categories. This meant that LULC maps were mainly used by universities, scientific laboratories, national ordnance survey bodies and other large organizations.
However, since the 2000s, there have been major advances in satellite mapping of land, data processing and computer power. And this has made creating and interacting with LULC maps much faster, easier and cheaper. The most exciting advance is in the area of artificial intelligence (AI). Machine learning algorithms can be trained to recognise patterns in a satellite image and automatically classify different kinds of land use and land cover. This means that a process that would once have taken days or weeks for a cartographer in the past, can now be done in hours.
At Luxcarta, we’ve trained BrightEarth, our LULC generator, to build 3D global land cover maps using the latest Sentinel 2 satellite imagery. Our algorithm not only classifies land use accurately, it also estimates building and tree heights (based on their shadow length) and turns images into interactive maps.
Related: What are digital surface models?
Ever more industries are using LULC maps
At Luxcarta, we work with partners in a wide range of industries who are looking to benefit from interactive land use and land cover maps. Here are just some of the industries that are increasingly using land cover mapping.
LULC maps are invaluable to radio frequency panning and wireless network optimisation. Telecom firms want to launch new systems. They need to ensure they won’t block radio wave signals. Obstacles can include trees, buildings, and urban clutter. LULC maps help identify the optimal site and position of cell towers, 5G transmitters, or IoT sensors.
Using LULC can save project managers and engineers tens of thousands of hours when planning out where to place infrastructure. Rather than sending technicians out to survey entire cities, they can quickly narrow down the best locations by viewing a 3D map.
Simulations and training
An accurate land cover map can be extremely useful in a wide range of training and simulation scenarios. LULC maps can quickly build up an image of what’s on the ground in a specific location, and this can then be fed into a simulation environment.
For example, a LULC map of a rural area could help military instructors build up an accurate training environment of a place in the real world. It could show tree cover, identify the edges of fields, and even classify the kinds of crops growing on them.
A LULC map can be invaluable for architects working on almost any building design. Interactive 3D maps give a clear view of line of sight, how a new edifice may block views, and how a structure would fit into the streetscape.
Urban planners find LULC maps invaluable, especially when built using up-to-date satellite imagery. Urban planners can use LULC maps to plan housing developments, identify potential sites for building, and monitor urban sprawl. LULC maps can also be used to perform certain kinds of ecological surveys, helping identify potential habitats without needing to send someone to inspect a site.
Forestry and agriculture
The forestry and agriculture industries can greatly benefit from up-to-date land cover maps. They can identify the density of woodlands and timber forests, or even monitor the health of crops.
Insurers are increasingly using land cover mapping to help tailor insurance quotes and to adjust premiums. The technology can be used to identify potential flood risks, deforestation (which increases the risk of landslides), coastal erosion and other important hazards.
Conservationists extensively use land cover maps to track land use change, deforestation and monitor biodiversity loss.
Retail and e-commerce
Many retail and logistics businesses use land cover maps to identify potential sites to develop new retail outlets, warehouses, or logistics hubs. You can use up-to-date maps to plan expansion to the most suitable locations.
How will you use LULC maps?
Thanks to rapid improvements in technology, it is easier than ever to generate LULC maps. And innovators in multiple industries are already using these maps to gain a competitive advantage. So, how will your organization use LULC maps?