Conceptualizing Land

How do we define land? The classic system of defining land is based on a single scale, the extremes of which are urban areas and wilderness. These categories and others (e.g., forests, agriculture) are parcelized into discrete units, such that each parcel of land is assigned a single label.

There are many land classification systems, but they all rest on the same premise: land can be categorized into distinct classes that defi ne either land cover (Table 5.1a), the physical characteristics of Earth's surface (e.g., vegetation and the built environment [Table 5.1b]), or land use (i.e., human activities on the land such as agriculture and industrial use [Table 5.1c]) (Anderson 1971). The land-accounting system then follows from this conceptualization. Units of land are summed up to get aggregate amounts. By labeling each land unit into a single category, we can obtain an aggregate estimate of land by adding up individual units. This land-accounting approach has been the basis of generating inventories of land use and land cover across all scales (Table 5.2).

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