The CEC Releases New Land Cover Change Map of North America

by | Nov 19, 2020

Montreal  “The North American Land Change Monitoring System (NALCMS), a trinational initiative coordinated by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), today released  new mapping data depicting land cover change across North America from 2010 to 2015 at a 30-metre spatial resolution, demonstrating key landscape transitions across our continent.

These maps tell a story of changes in the North American environment. Here are three examples of natural and human phenomena that depict the varying ways in which these data help us better understand landscape changes from a broader perspective:

  1. Forest Fires in the Northwest Territories, Canada:  Large areas around Yellowknife show land cover transition from forest to mainly grassland and barren lands. In 2014, unusually warm conditions and lack of rain triggered more than 130 forest fires in the surrounding area of Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories. The forest fire season for that year has been classified as one of the most extreme in the region over the last three decades, with lasting impacts on vegetation and wildlife as well as human populations.


  1. Wetlands to Aquaculture in Sinaloa, Mexico: The coastal area of Sinaloa now hosts one of the largest shrimp-farming regions in the country, with sixty percent of Mexico's shrimp aquaculture production now concentrated in this state, intended for the national and international market. But originally this coastal region was the site of considerable wetland and mangrove habitat. When comparing 2010 to 2015, the impact of increased flooding of the land is apparent. This includes coastal modification, especially near bays and estuaries, changes to agricultural soil, and urban expansion due to economic activity. 


  1. Urban Sprawl in Dallas-Fort Worth, United States: The rapid expansion of this urban area can be observed by comparing satellite images from 2010 and 2015. Fort Worth, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, has grown rapidly over the period, due to the development of the aerospace, pharmaceutical, and food industries, among others. In 2018, Fort Worth became the metropolitan area with the highest annual growth rate in the nation, with an increase of 146,000 inhabitants in just that year.

These maps, created from a composite of images assembled from satellite observations (Landsat), are the result of a collaborative effort that harmonized land cover classification systems from Canada, Mexico and the United States into 19 classes, providing a seamless view of the continent at a consistent scale. Users can download the change data and view class transitions between 2010 and 2015 on a pixel-basis throughout the continent.

This geospatial dataset offers invaluable support to international organizations, nongovernmental conservation organizations, land managers, scientific researchers and others, allowing them a better understanding of the dynamics and continental-scale patterns of North America's land cover and a tool for conducting both regional and local-level analyses.


For media inquiries please contact:

Sarah Julien 
CEC Communications Coordinator

[email protected]
(514) 350-4331 / (514) 781-2781


North American Land Change Monitoring System

NALCMS is a joint initiative among Natural Resources Canada (NRCan)'s Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation (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 (Comisión Nacional Forestal”Conafor), and supported by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC).

The North American Environmental Atlas

The NALCMS is part of the CEC's North American Environmental Atlas,  bringing together maps, data and interactive map layers to allow for  continental and regional perspectives on environmental issues that cross boundaries