Scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis say the new "Geo-Wiki" tool uses Google Earth and information provided by a global network of volunteers to fill in "data gaps" and to verify existing land cover information.
Land cover data is increasingly vital as nations attempt to balance issues such as agricultural production for food security with their objectives regarding climate change or biodiversity conservation, the researchers said.
"Global land cover information available to policymakers and the research community today is derived from remote sensing," Steffen Fritz, leader of the Geo-Wiki development team, said in an IIASA release Tuesday.
"While there are several excellent regional and national land cover datasets already available that capture some basic information, there are still many regions where the information derived from satellite sources is conflicting, or inconsistent, across the datasets."
The researcher said they are encouraging volunteers to log on to the site at www.geo-wiki.org, identify where they are in the world, view the information already available via the Google map and, to the best of their ability, provide their interpretation of the land cover in the area.
"Geo-Wiki is one tool to start bridging this information gap, integrating information, and, ultimately, we believe supporting the development of more integrated policy and management decisions," Fritz said.