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 What is the Land Cover Map of Catalonia?

The Land Cover Map of Catalonia (MCSC) is a high resolution thematic cartography of the main types of land cover of the country (forests, crops, urban areas, etc.). The MCSC is carried out in the Centre de Recerca Ecològica i Aplicacions Forestals (CREAF), with the funding of the Generalitat de Catalunya.

El MCSC is part of the Internet available Cartography of the Generalitat de Catalunya and is, therefore, free to use.

The MCSC is presented in digital format. The different areas are delimited by photointerpretation and digitalization on computer screen, using the MiraMon GIS.

 The Land Cover Map of Catalonia: Why?

In recent decades, changes in land covers and soil uses have sped up. These changes produces impacts on the environment and the landscape.

Every territorial management or planning that tries to avoid or resolve these problems, necessarily requires the cartography, the snapshot, but also the evolution of land uses and land covers, and changes in landscape structure.

The MCSC is a basic cartography of the land covers that, which currently has four editions. Thanks to the different editions of the MCSC, will be possible to know, among other things, if the forestry area increases or decreases, or if the urban pressure affects non-suitable territories for this use.

 What is the Land Cover Map of Catalonia for?

The MCSC, due to its high level of detail, is of great interest for the territory knowledge, but also for the evaluation of the soil occupation in every site, in both points of view, ecological and economical. With the MCSC we can obtain the area of forest or crop at level of county, municipal, natural park, etc, and exctract the corresponding maps, plan the design of field samplings (such as the Ecological and Forest Inventory of Catalonia), connectors between natural areas, studies for urban and territorial plannings, infrastructure (the electricity grid distribution, the layout of means of communication, etc.), irrigation plans, evaluations of enviromental impact , etc.

 What is the legend of the Land Cover Map?

The MCSC is a digital product that covers the main types of land covers, with a hierarchical legend of 2 levels and 1 sublevel for the first edition, 3 levels and 1 sublevel for the second edition, and 5 levels and 1 sublevel for the third and fourth edition. In order to obtain such a legend, a part of the categories included in the upper levels are subdivisions of categories of the lower levels. It can be consulted the full table in the document: Table from level 1 to 5.

 Interpretation of the legend of the different editions

As it is explained on the characteristics section of the Map, the MCSC legend is hierarchical. Each one of the editions has more levels that come from the breakdown of the categories of the anterior edition.

In each edition, the legend, the description of the categories, and the methodology have been made with the aim of the comparability between editions. However, sometimes there are differences between them with respect to the particular meaning of some category, or its assignement within the hierarchical structure of the legend, or as a result of the methodological improvement. These differences are due to willingness to adapt to the requirements of the product to each edition, not always beeig compatible between them. Thus, any study of land cover change that use the MCSC editions, should have clear the conceptual or methodological differences, so that the estimate of the changes matches to the real change of the land cover. And changes due to methodologies or different concepts should not be included.

In order to  help the understanding of these differences, we present the following document that refers to the interpretation of the MCSC legend:
The following document can also serve as a support, specially for understand the encoding of the land covers according to MCSC and its relationship to SIOSE, as it is gathered in the main table of polygons (file that ends with p.dbf):

 What are the characteristics of the MCSC?

The boundaries of the area is done by photointerpretation and digitizing on computer screen, which permits the use of other digital cartography elements as a direct support for the process. The basis material for the photointerpretation are the ortophotos in natural colour from the Cartographic Institute of Catalonia (ICC), in digital format. Each sheet represents aproximately 125 km². In order to do this task we use the SIG MiraMon.

The Table 1, shows the scale and resolution of the orthophotos and the working scale used in the different editions of the MCSC. It also indicates the availability of  orthophotos in infrared colour, a very useful material for identifying different types of forests and crops.

Table 1

MCSC-3v1 and MCSC-3v2
Orthophotos scale
Resolution (pixel)
2.5 m
0.50 m
0.5 m
0.25 m
Working scale
Infrared colour
Yes (SPOT) Yes (ortofoto)

The table 2, shows the surface and the minimum width of capture, as well as, the number of categories and levels of the legend for each of the editions of the MCSC.

Table 2

MCSC-3v1 and MCSC-3v2
Minimum surface of capture
500 m²
500 m²
500 m² 500 m²
Minimum width
10 m

Communication network: 8 m

Cataloged communication network: No limits

Non-catalogued roads: 15 m
Idem. 2005-2007
v1: 233 v2: 241
Levels of the hierarchical legend

The cartographic basis obtained through this process (boundary lines and identification labels for the covers, figure 1), is devided in sheets that follows the cartographic sections 1:25 000.

Figure 1. Photointerpretation on the ortophoto. Section of the sheet  333-2-2, Santa Coloma de Farners.

Afterwards, is converted to a format of topológically structured vectors  (polygons) (figure 2), thus:

  • Topological and thematic errors are detected and eliminated.
  • The spatial relations between objects are explicited, enabling complex analysis, such as recognize multiple holes inside polygons, know the spatial neighborhood , link groups of islands, etc.
  • The polygons are linked to a database wich includes, among others, the land cover attributes and its individual area; this database can also be associated with other database.
  • The database can be consulted separately or with a more "intelligent" access to the graphic information,  by means of interactive queries by location (what there is in this point?) or by attribute (where are this type of land cover?) and calculate the area of one or more land covers.

  • Figure 2. Photointerpretation result. Section of the sheet 333-2-2, Santa Coloma de Farners.

    This map also is converted to a raster format  (image where the spatial representation is made by a space division in a grid of squares, called cells or pixels), with a planimetric resolution of 2 m per pixel.  Despite its high detail, the raster image is converted to a compressed version, obtaining smaller files and more agile queries. The raster images also allow interactive queries by attribute and location and calculate  the area of one or more land covers. In addition to being a very handy format in GIS analysis.

    Among the operations that are possible to do on the MCSC basis we mention the thematic reclassification in order to obtain more general categories, distance calculation between graphic objects, cross-classification between layers, etc.The selected items in a query on any of these digital formats can be exported to another file, obtaining a new geographical database.

    The MCSC is used by several public government institutions, not only in its original format , but as a highly accurate planimetric basis on which other applications or studies are carried out (fuel models and flammability maps, vegetation maps, etc.)

    The MCSC has improved technical characteristics over the different editions, in proportion to the quality of the images of the different flights, so that the information in each new edition is more complete, accurate and reliable.

    Figure 3. Left, orthoimage 1:25 000. Right, detail of the left image on a orthoimage 1:5000.

    • Arc vectors associated with a tesaurus: The vectorial format of arcs, from which are represented the MCSC polygons, is associated with a tesaurus that defines the type of boundary of each arc (land cover limits, of Catalonia with Aragon and Valencia, the coast limit, etc.) besides of a palette that assigns a colour in function of the limit type. These formats can be obtained from the descompression of the map in MMZ format which contains the the information of the Land Cover Map.
    • Metadata of the cartographic basis: The metadatas is the information on the cartographic basis and, in the MCSC case, referes to the date of the orthoimage obtention, to the spatial reference system or to the thematic information, among others.  The Land Cover Map, as is made with the MiraMon GIS, follows its metadata model. This model has been developed from the existing standards (ISO 19115, CSDGN of FGDC, etc.), and it is consistent with them so that it is possible to export the metadata following any standard. The metadata can be consulted from the Metadata Manager of the MiraMon GIS or its MiraMon Map Reader.

     Land cover areas in Catalonia

    The volumes of the Ecological and Forest Inventory of Catalonia include the land cover areas of the first MCSC edition for each forest region in which the catalan territory is devided, at level municipal, county and  Interest Natural Areas, as well as the land cover distribution in function of the altitude, the slope, and the orientation.

  • Forest Region I (Alta Ribagorça, Alt Urgell, Pallars Jussà, Pallars Sobirà, Vall d'Aran)
  • Forest Region II (Cerdanya, Garrotxa, Osona, Ripollès)
  • Forest Region III (Alt Empordà, Baix Empordà, Gironès, Pla de l'Estany, Selva)
  • Forest Region IV (Anoia, Bages, Berguedà, Solsonès)
  • Forest Region V (Alt Penedès, Baix Llobregat, Barcelonès, Garraf, Maresme, Vallès Occidental, Vallès Oriental)
  • Forest Region VI (Alt Camp, Baix Camp, Baix Penedès, Conca de Barberà, Tarragonès)
  • Forest Region VII (Baix Ebre, Montsià, Priorat, Ribera d'Ebre, Terra Alta)
  • Forest Region VIII (Garrigues, Noguera, Pla d'Urgell, Segarra, Segrià, Urgell)
  •  Main Bibliography on the methodology of the MCSC

  • MCSC-1:
  • IBÀÑEZ, J.J.; BURRIEL, J.A.; & PONS, X. (2002). El mapa de cobertes del sòl de Catalunya: una eina per al coneixement, la planificació i la gestió del territori. Perspectivas Territorials. 3: 10-25. Departament de Política Territorial i Obres Públiques, Generalitat de Catalunya. Barcelona.

  • MCSC-2:
  • BURRIEL, J.A.; IBÀÑEZ, J.J.; & PONS, X. (2005). Segunda edición del mapa de cubiertas del suelo de Cataluña: Herramienta para la gestión sostenible del territorio. Cuadernos de la Sociedad Española de Ciencias Forestales 19: 35-39.

  • MCSC-3:
  • IBÀÑEZ, J.J. & BURRIEL, J.A. (2010): Mapa de cubiertas del suelo de Cataluña: características de la tercera edición y relación con SIOSE. En: Ojeda, J., Pita, M.F. y Vallejo, I. (Eds.), Tecnologías de la Información Geográfica: La Información Geográfica al servicio de los ciudadanos. Secretariado de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Sevilla. Sevilla. Pp. 179-198. ISBN: 978-84-472-1294-1

     Links to other combinable carthografy

    The Land Cover Map sheets can be combined with other geographical information in digital format in order to complete the analysis. Below are some links to other sources of cartography: 

  • GIS of the Department of Planning and Sustainability of the Generalitat de Catalunya
  • Digital Climatic Atlas of Catalonia
  • Land Cover Map of Andorra
  • GIS-Fisheries of the Department of Agricultura, Livestock, Fisheries, Food and Natural Enviroment of the Generalitat de Catalunya
  •  Formats of the Land Cover Map

    The Land Cover Map sheets are only served on digital support. The available formats are:

  • MiraMon format  (raster and vectorial). To view it you must have installed the MiraMon Map Reader, of free distribution. The maps are constructed so that they can be print in a landscape format A4.
  • DXF format (AutoCAD)
  • Shape format (ESRI)
  • KMZ format (Google Earth)
  • If you are interested on the sheets of a bigger particular geographic area that is not offered in the MCSC website (provinces, natural parks,...) please contact: joan.pino@uab.cat


    Download MCSC data:










    MCSC first edition (basis images of 1993):


    MCSC third edition, version 1 (basis images of 2005-2007):

    Vectors (polygons)


    Vectors (polygons)

    Rasters (images)


    Rasters (images)




    By administrative boundaries (polygons)


     MCSC second edition (basis images of 2000-2003):


    By administrative boundaries (rasters)

    Vectors (polygons)

    Rasters (images)
    MCSC third edition, versión 2 (basis images of 2005-2007):
    By administrative boundaries (polygons)
    Vectors (polygons)
    By administrative boundaries (rasters)


    Rasters (images)

    MCSC fourth edition (basis images of 2009):

    Vectors (polygons)


    Rasters (images)



    Go to SIBosC web