Land cover: to standardise or not to standardise? Comment on ‘Evolving standards in land cover characterization’ by Herold et al.
journal contributionposted on 25.08.2009, 11:51 by Alexis J. Comber, Peter F. Fisher, Richard A. Wadsworth
A recent article advocated the adoption of a single standard for all land cover classifications. The authors argued that variations in classification were problematic, standards solve problems related to classification heterogeneity and land cover is the fundamental land variable. This letter challenges these arguments: 1) methods exist for integrating disparate data, many based around data semantics; 2) standards are themselves problematic as they are frequently revised (e.g. soils) and because they always lag behind current activities cannot represent the depth of knowledge held within a community such as land cover; 3) scientists working in other disciplines may view land use as the elemental variable driving many other processes and they construct land cover in a very different way This letter argues that as most geographic data and especially land cover is a socially mediated construct (there are no agreed fundamental units), fixing a specific conceptualisation of land cover into the ‘aspic’ of a formal standard does not represent a scientific advance.