Imperviousness and imperviousness change

Indicator Specification
Indicator codes: LSI 002
Created 16 Nov 2016 Published 04 Dec 2017 Last modified 11 Dec 2017
13 min read
The imperviousness indicator is defined as the yearly average imperviousness change between two reference years, as measured by imperviousness change products. The change is aggregated for a certain reference unit and expressed as relative to the size of that unit (as a percentage). The imperviousness change value for a 100 m raster cell is based on 100 m imperviousness change products. The default reference unit is the country, but the indicator can be aggregated based on different spatial units. For example, for a certain country, a n imperviousness indicator value of 0.2 %, means that on average, an additional 0.2 % of this country's area has been sealed annually during the period between the two reference years in question. If above a certain rate of increase (threshold values) , this value can be used as a warning sign. The aggregation of imperviousness values to reference units is performed using the LEAC CUBE method.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)


Justification for indicator selection

Data and indicators on the extent of, and change in, soil sealing or imperviousness (used synonymously) are important for a number of highly policy relevant issues. Imperviousness is defined as the covering of the soil surface with impervious materials as a result of urban development and infrastructure construction (buildings, constructions and layers of completely or partly impermeable artificial material, e.g. asphalt, metal, glass, plastic or concrete). 

Changes in imperviousness can document land use intensification or land cover/land use change due to urban or industrial development and related increases in traffic infrastructure. All these changes have potentially significant implications for biodiversity, soil functions, hydrological properties, provision of ecosystem services and nature conservation. In particular, exchanges of energy, water and gases are restricted and pressure on adjacent, non-sealed areas is increased. Until recently, the only European dataset available to indirectly document changes in imperviousness was Corine Land Cover (CLC). However, the associated 'land take' indicator covers a lot of surface area that is not actually sealed. The imperviousness indicator supplements this 'land take' indicator by providing information with a higher spatial resolution, based on a more direct measurement of imperviousness and with a shorter update cycle.


Available dataset/indicator

Spatial resolution/minimum mapping unit (MMU)

Reference year/update cycle

Main characteristics

Suggested use case

CLC status layer, classes 1XX (Artificial surfaces)

25 ha MMU

1990, 2000, 2006, 2012 (currently 6-year update cycle)

Vector and Raster versions. Long time series, 11 level 3 sub-classes for artificial surfaces are distinguished

Detailed, pan-European overview on land cover/land use, not limited to issues of land take and soil sealing. Not to be used for change mapping.

CLC change products

5 ha MMU

1990-2000, 2000-2006, 2006-2012

Vector product. Best available detailed change information on pan-European land use and land cover.

Analysis of change between CLC reference years. Analysis of land cover flows (not limited to artificial surfaces)

Land take indicator

5 ha MMU (from CLC change product)

2000-2006, 2006-2012

Published indicator (not spatial dataset), based on aggregation of certain types of land cover flow in 1 km grid cells (LEAC CUBE)

Captures the change in the amount of agriculture, forest and other semi-natural and natural land taken by urban and other artificial land development (in ha or km2).

Results are presented as average annual change, percentage of total area of the country and percentage of the various land cover types taken up by urban development.

Statistical and spatial analysis of land take, including extent, spatial pattern and dynamics (which land use/land cover changed into which artificial land use class). Use as a proxy for sealing is not appropriate.

Imperviousness indicator

20 m spatial resolution (grid)


2009-2012 (currently 3-year update cycle)

Published indicator, based on the Copernicus high resolution layer (HRL) imperviousness (IMD). Yearly average change in IMD in percentage imperviousness, relative to the size of the reference unit.

Spatially very detailed extent and pattern of soil sealing/ imperviousness. Limitation: no information on types of land cover/land use (besides percentage sealing change). Best analysed together with land take indicator and existing absolute sealing levels.

Scientific references

  • Newly created RationaleReference Artmann, M., 2014. Assessment of Soil Sealing Management Responses, Strategies, and Targets Toward Ecologically Sustainable Urban Land Use Management. AMBIO, 43:530-541. DOI 10.1007/s13280-014-0511-1
  • Newly created RationaleReference Scalenghe, R. and Marsan, F.A., 2008. The anthropogenic sealing of soils in urban areas. Landscape and Urban Planning, V.90, Issues 1-2, p.1-10. DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2008.10.011
  • Newly created RationaleReference Bouma, J., 2006. Soil functions and land use. In: G. Certini, R. Scalenghe (Eds.), Soils. Basic Concepts and Future Challenges, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, EU (2006), pp. 211–221
  • Newly created RationaleReference European Environment Agency (2006): Urban Sprawl. The ignored challenge. EEA Report 10/2006. ISSN 1725-9177
  • Newly created RationaleReference Jacobson, C.R., 2011. Identification and quantification of the hydrological impacts of imperviousness in urban catchments: A review. Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 92, Issue 6, 1438-1448. doi:10.1016/j.jenvman.2011.01.018 
  • Newly created RationaleReference Prokop, G., Jobstmann, H., & Schönbauer, A. (2011). Overview of best practices for limiting soil sealing or mitigating its effects in EU-27. European Communities, 227.
  • Newly created RationaleReference Sutton, P.C., Anderson, S.J., Elvidge, C.D. (2009) Paving the planet: impervious surface as proxy measure of the human ecological footprint. Progress in Physical Geography. 33: 510-527.
  • Newly created RationaleReference
  • Newly created RationaleReference Zaucha, J. and Świątek, D. (2013), Place Based Territorially Sensitive and Integrated Approach

Indicator definition

The imperviousness indicator is defined as the yearly average imperviousness change between two reference years, as measured by imperviousness change products. The change is aggregated for a certain reference unit and expressed as relative to the size of that unit (as a percentage). The imperviousness change value for a 100 m raster cell is based on 100 m imperviousness change products. The default reference unit is the country, but the indicator can be aggregated based on different spatial units. For example, for a certain country, an imperviousness indicator value of 0.2 %, means that on average, an additional 0.2 % of this country's area has been sealed annually during the period between the two reference years in question. If above a certain rate of increase (threshold values), this value can be used as a warning sign. The aggregation of imperviousness values to reference units is performed using the LEAC CUBE method.


The unit used for this indicator is the yearly average percentage change in imperviousness relative to the size of the reference unit. This was initially based on the total difference over the three reference years (2006-2009, and now 2009-2012) divided by three, but it will be possible to calculate the indicator for different periods at a later stage (e.g. 2006-2015). It is important to note that the yearly average value is based specifically on the period reported, e.g. 2006-2009 or 2009-2012.

Policy context and targets

Context description

The main policy objective of this indicator is to measure the extent and dynamics (change) of soil sealing, resulting from the development of urban and other artificial land uses.

At the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio in 2012 (Rio+20), world leaders identified land and soil degradation as a global problem and committed to 'strive to achieve a land degradation neutral world in the context of sustainable development'. At the EU level, the Seventh Environment Action Programme (7th EAP) includes a strong focus on the unsustainable use of land and soil, including explicitly the issue of soil sealing. In this context, the 7th EAP refers to a Commission Staff Working Document with the title 'Guidelines on best practice to limit, mitigate or compensate soil sealing' (SWD/2012/0101).

In addition, land take is explicitly mentioned in chapter 23 of the 7th EAP, stating that:

Every year more than 1 000 km² of land are taken for housing, industry, transport or recreational purposes. Such long-term changes are difficult or costly to reverse, and nearly always involve trade-offs between various social, economic and environmental needs. Environmental considerations including water protection and biodiversity conservation should be integrated into planning decisions relating to land use so that they are made more sustainable, with a view to making progress towards the objective of 'no net land take', by 2050.'

In recognition of the importance of land in safeguarding natural resources, the Commission is considering a Communication on 'land as a resource'.

Other important references can be found in A Sustainable Europe for a Better World: A European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development (COM(2001)264) and the thematic documents related to it, such as the Commission Communication Towards a Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment (COM(2004)60), Cohesion Policy and Cities: the urban contribution to growth and jobs in the regions (COM(2006)385), Europe 2020 (COM(2010)2020), general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund Council Regulation (EC) No 1083/2006, as well as the concept of territorial cohesion.


Although there are no quantitative targets for soil sealing/imperviousness at European level, different documents reflect the need for better planning to control urban growth and the extension of infrastructures. Policies relating explicitly to land use issues, and especially physical and spatial planning, have, until now, generally been the responsibility of the authorities in Member States. The European Commission's Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM(2011) 571) introduces, for the first time, a 'no net land take by 2050' initiative that would imply that all new urbanisation will either occur on brownfields or that any new land take will need to be compensated by reclaiming artificial land.

European policy, although it has no spatial planning responsibility, sets the framing conditions for planning. At the European level, the 1999 European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), a non-binding framework that aims to coordinate various European regional policy impacts, already advocates the development of a sustainable, polycentric and balanced urban system with compact cities and a strengthening of the partnerships between urban and rural areas, as well as parity of access to infrastructure and knowledge, and wise management of natural areas and cultural heritage. The 2008 Green Paper on territorial cohesion, and the 2007 EU Territorial Agenda and Action Plan by the Territorial Agenda of the EU and the Action programme for its implementation (COPTA, 2007) build further on the ESDP. Specific, relevant actions in the field of 'Land', in particular are Action 2.1d 'Urban sprawl' and Action 2.2 'Territorial impact of EU policies'.

Demand for new urban areas may be partly satisfied by brownfield remediation. Its environmental advantages are clear: relieving pressure on rural areas and greenfield sites, reducing pollution costs, more efficient energy use and natural resource consumption, facilitating economic diversification and emerging habitat (housing) requirements. Europe has several examples of regional strategies for economic regeneration and brownfield development (The OECD Territorial Outlook 2001). On average land recycling increased steadily between 1990 and 2012 on annual basis, with considerable variation between countries, and within countries. Stronger links between EU urban and soil policies could encourage this further (e.g. following up respective 6th EAP Thematic strategies).

Related policy documents

Key policy question

What are the extent, degree, dynamics and spatial pattern of surface sealing (imperviousness) in Europe?


Methodology for indicator calculation

  • The 100 m imperviousness change product, produced as a deliverable in the 2009 and 2012 updates, is the basis for this indicator. 
  • The indicator for the 2006-2009 period (published in 2015) is fully replaced by this first update for the 2009-2012 period, for reasons detailed (among others) in the section on 'Data sets uncertainty'. Once a fully harmonised and reprocessed time series of imperviousness data is available, the indicator will be updated to cover the whole period from 2006 to 2015.
  • Although imperviousness changes included in the 100 m change product could be summarised directly as certain reference units, the calculation of the indicator is performed by ingesting 100 m imperviousness change values into the EEA LEAC cube in order to create harmonised results with other spatial indicators using a similar methodology. The LEAC cube enables the extraction of statistics based on a system of grid-cells with a 1 km side length (an area of 100 ha). 
  • Reference units, such as countries, NUTS3 regions etc. are already included in the LEAC cube as so called 'dimensions' and are used for the statistical aggregation of imperviousness changes corresponding to required reference units.
  • Yearly average imperviousness change values are calculated by dividing the average imperviousness change values by the number of years between two status years.

Methodology for gap filling

  • Known gaps were caused by image gaps (missing input Earth observation data) in both 2006 and 2009 data. For 2009 gaps, the available 2006 values were used for the 2009 status layer and gaps in 2012 image data were filled with imperviousness data from 2009. This means that in some areas (under image gaps), the real sealing change is not known for 2009 and 2012, and some under-estimation of the real sealing increase (for those areas) is likely (because data from previous reference years are used). This practice of gap-filling with previous reference year data will be discontinued for the 2015 (and future) updates, but it will not be possible to eliminate the effects from the 2009 and 2012 datasets.

Methodology references

No methodology references available.

Data specifications

EEA data references

Data sources in latest figures


Methodology uncertainty

  • The methodology for deriving the indicator is simple and introduces very little uncertainty. However, it needs to be fully understood that the yearly averages are only valid for the 3-year reference period under consideration. Possible variation within the 3-year period (for individual years) is currently not captured.

Data sets uncertainty

  • This indicator is based directly on the mapping of soil sealing/imperviousness using Earth observation data of about 20 m spatial resolution. Real sealing will differ from the values derived in this way for various reasons:

    • The spatial resolution of the input imagery (20 m) means that very small sealed surfaces will not be captured, e.g. small buildings and small paved roads, and other sealed surfaces with a very small footprint. This can lead to an underestimation of real sealing.
    • As with all Earth observation derived products, the data contain omission errors (sealed surfaces not detected) and commission errors (areas wrongly classified as sealed). The distribution of these errors depends on the quality of the input data, calibration during production and local differences in spectral contrast (which makes sealing in some locations 'easier' to detect than in other locations, depending on the context).
    • There are some known issues in the 2006 and 2009 imperviousness data sets, which will only be corrected as part of a full reprocessing procedure, coinciding with the production of the 2015 reference year. For example, an area of large (apparent) sealing increases in southern Spain is in reality caused by greenhouses in this area being included as sealed in 2009, but (by mistake) excluded in 2006.
    • Until the fully reprocessed time-series (2006-2009-2012-2015) becomes available in 2018, the existing status layers are only consistent with the change product for the 2006-2009 period, not for the 2009-2012 period. This is because the 2006-2009 product was produced and redelivered as a harmonised product and the 2006 errors found during the production of the change product were corrected in the 2006 status layer. This is not the case for the 2009-2012 product, where errors found in the 2009 product were not corrected in the 2009 status layer. This means that for some countries, an over-estimation of sealing in 2009 leads to (apparent) decreases in total area sealed between the two status layers that will only be corrected once the 2009 sealing is corrected. At the same time, most of these countries still show real increases in sealing as captured in the 2009-2012 change product. 
    • Where cloud gaps in 2009 were present, sealing values for 2006 were used in the 2009 product. This means that sealing increases for these areas is likely to be underestimated. This gap-filling will not be supported in 2015 and later updates (see section on 'Methodology for gap filling')
    • For imperviousness/soil sealing products, the term 'reference year' must currently be understood to comprise a maximum of 3 years (the year before the reference year, the actual reference year, and the year after the reference year for gap-filling). This means that the Earth observation data used to produce the '2009 reference year' are, in reality, a mix of 2008, 2009 and 2010 acquisitions. This situation is likely to improve (imagery is more likely to come from one single year) with the future availability of new sensors, such as Sentinel2.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Tobias Langanke


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
LSI 002
Version id: 2
Primary theme: Land use Land use

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 3 years


DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

Related content

Data used

Latest figures and vizualizations

Relevant policy documents

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100