The purpose of ‘GIO land’

If our environment and natural heritage are to be properly managed, one of the key tools needed by decision-makers is comprehensive and timely information on land cover and land cover change. Corine Land Cover (CLC) datasets have provided a time series of land cover and land use information over the European continent since 1990. These allow for the monitoring of changes to the earth’s surface that result from the interaction of both natural processes and human activities. The objective of the Copernicus land monitoring service is to provide land cover information to users in the field of environmental and other terrestrial applications. Information priorities and their relevance to users are defined and validated by the European Commission (EC) and the Copernicus committee, with the advice of the Copernicus User Forum.

The ‘GIO land’ project focused on the priority for multi-purpose information common to a large community of users (i.e. land cover/land cover change at various scales and periodicity; biophysical variables for dynamic land monitoring, and improved access to reference data). Four components were identified:

  1. Pan-European global component producing biophysical variables at global scale (i.e. worldwide). It is coordinated by the European Commission DG Joint Research Centre (JRC);
  2. Pan-European land cover, land cover change and land cover characteristics;
  3. Local component providing very high resolution information on specific areas of interest;
  4. In-situ data, including access to a reference data building on INSPIRE architecture and useful for several Copernicus services.


GIO land builds on the pre-cursor Copernicus-related FP7 project geoland2, which addressed amongst other both the local component (i.e. the Urban Atlas) and the continental component. For the continental component, the methodologies for 5 thematic High Resolution on Land Cover characteristics: impervious areas, forests, permanent grasslands, wetlands and water bodies were developed, and a wall to wall imperviousness layer with reference year 2009 was produced as well. Geoland2 investigated also into change detection methods for the Urban Atlas, and provided potential use cases for the thematic High Resolution Layers. These methodological developments have been instrumental for the preparation of the implementation of GIO land.

For more detailed information see geoland2

The agreement and project

On 25 May 2011, a Delegation Agreement was signed between EU and the EEA. The agreement tasks the EEA with the technical coordination of the pan-European and local components of the GIO land monitoring service. Its execution entered into force on 25 May 2011 and was completed on 31 December 2014.

The Copernicus land monitoring service was implemented using two implementation schemes:

  1. centralised implementation, with procurement via framework and service contracts to service providers; and
  2. decentralised implementation, using grant agreements to participating countries.


Satellite imagery (ortho-rectified) needed for the production of the pan-European and local components were made available from December 2011 onwards, through the GMES/Copernicus data warehouse (DWH) operated by the European Space Agency (ESA). Except for the British Isles and the Northern countries almost a total coverage of the EEA’s 39 countries were acquired, and ortho-imagery is available in the DWH.

The Pan-European component

The pan-European land cover encompassed:

  1. The production of five additional pan-European high resolution layers (HRL) with specific land cover characteristics; the production of the five pan-European HRLs was the objective of the first call for tender for framework service contracts. One layer relates to each of the main land cover types - artificial surfaces, forest areas, agricultural areas (permanent grasslands), wetlands, and water bodies - for the reference year 2012. These can then be used, for example, as attributes for different kind of map objects, such as NUTS3, CLC polygons, regular grids or designated areas. The publication of the call for tender was made in August 2011. The first specific agreements began in January 2012. Service providers have then worked on streamlining activities that shall ensure a homogeneous coverage throughout the EEA’s 39 countries, and are currently in full production modus.
  2. The continuity of CLC with a new exercise for the reference year 2012; the reference year for the next update of the CLC datasets is 2012 (following CLC projects completed in 1990, 2000 and 2006). This update will provide a land cover change product between the reference years 2006 and 2012, and a land cover product for the reference year 2012.
  3. Support to the harmonisation efforts of countries in order to improve synergies between pan-European and national land cover activities and in support of the implementation of INSPIRE Annex II & III geospatial data specifications. One element of harmonisation consists of the organisation of training workshops to ensure that both participating countries and service providers will perform verification and enhancement activities for the production of the HRLs along the same lines. Other activities will follow related to the conversion of national datasets for integration and use in the European context.

The local component

GIO land activities for the local component encompass support to the EC for the definition of the thematic content of the local component, and the implementation of that component. The main objective of this action will be to provide more detailed information that is complementary to the pan-European component on specific areas of interest (e.g. urban areas, biodiversity). It will primarily be based on very high resolution images collected between 2011/13 in combination with other available datasets (high and medium resolution images) over the pan-European area.

A first local component will focus on biodiversity and ecosystem policy. It is proposed to develop a tailored land cover classification where detailed information is missing across Europe for riparian areas. The first suggestions were presented at and welcomed by both the GMES User Forum and the GMES committee, and will be defined in detail by EEA in 2013.

A second local component will build on the very first (then called) GMES local component (i.e. a follow-up exercise on the Urban Atlas). The first version of the Urban Atlas was made on the basis of 2006 satellite imagery. An update exercise is under preparation, to be based on 2012 imagery. The results of the first Urban Atlas are available under the Data & maps section of our website:

The access to in-situ data

All of the Copernicus services need access to in-situ data in order to ensure an efficient and effective use of Copernicus space data. EEA was tasked with the coordination of the Copernicus in-situ component through the GISC project (2010-2013). In support of the Copernicus unit within DG Enterprise and Industry of the EC, the project explored how a future management (governance, architecture) of the in-situ component during an operational phase might best be achieved. More information can be found on the GISC website:

Cooperation with participating countries

Eionet countries have the opportunity to participate in GIO land pan-European activities. For the production of the HRLs, cooperation has started in the verification, enhancement and dissemination phases. Furthermore, CLC products will be produced by EEA member and participating countries. Embedding the CLC products in the Copernicus land monitoring service is a major step forward for a systematically repeated and sustainable provision of land cover information over Europe. 17 grant agreements for an action with NRCs Land Cover were signed in 2012, and remaining ones were processed in 2013.

More information on GIO land



Geographic coverage




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