Paul M. Olson

Document Type

Thesis - University Access Only

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department / School



Representing complex land cover information on a hardcopy map is a difficult endeavor. Typically, the land cover is generalized to fifteen or fewer classes for symbolization and identification purposes. However, due to increasingly sophisticated data gathering, analysis techniques, and applications, complex databases are being produced that require presentation on traditional hardcopy maps. This study documents the methodology of designing and producing a map from the complex Global Land Cover Characterization (GLCC) database. An extensive literature review covering perceptual organization, color use, and legend design was conducted to analyze relevant research, apply pertinent theories, and justify new methods. The database was generalized from its original 960 land cover classes to 100 to aid cartographic representation but still maintain its uniquely complex nature. A visual hierarchy was developed based on the Gestalt grouping method and applicable theories adapted from the literature review. Applying the hierarchical method to the database divided the global data into five continental regions. Each continental region is represented by a reference map on five unique legends. The land cover classes from the continental regions are generalized into land cover groups. Every land cover group is labeled and symbolized on individual legends within the continental region legend and represented on the continental reference maps. All the individual land cover classes of the major biomes are labeled and symbolized on their corresponding biome legends and represented on the global map. The hierarchical method is an intricate but unique method for logically breaking up the complex geospatial information into smaller, more perceptible groups. Thus, class identification accuracy is increased by reducing search area. After a thorough review of cartographic color research, a logical combination of Kilchler and Gaussen's ecology-based color scheme and an adaptation of the traditional cartographic color scheme were applied. This interdisciplinary study justifies the development and necessity of the hierarchical grouping method. Providing a methodology for map design will offer future insight to cartographers and geographers developing, analyzing, and visualizing complex geospatial information.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Vegetation mapping -- Databases Phytogeography -- Maps -- Databases Land use -- Maps -- Databases



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University