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I'm making a mobile game that uses GPS to interact with the real world.

The game should be able to "see" what terrain/land use/land cover the user is currently in.

Ideally, the game would send the user's current coordinates and receive something like "forest", "city", "lake", "beach", "meadow", etc. and have data available globally.

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    Globally or of a certain country? – markusN Feb 21 '16 at 22:27
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    I really hope you're making some kind of real-world Pokémon – Richard Law Feb 21 '16 at 23:00
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    @RichardLaw My game is at terranquest.net if you want to check it out! Also, Google for Pokémon Go. – Skylar Ittner Feb 22 '16 at 4:30
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I would recommend using the National Land Cover Database (NLCD). As you can see from the NLCD2011 legend, the classes are fairly broad but may suit your needs.

National Land Cover Database 2011 (NLCD 2011) is the most recent national land cover product created by the Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics (MRLC) Consortium. NLCD 2011 provides - for the first time - the capability to assess wall-to-wall, spatially explicit, national land cover changes and trends across the United States from 2001 to 2011. As with two previous NLCD land cover products NLCD 2011 keeps the same 16-class land cover classification scheme that has been applied consistently across the United States at a spatial resolution of 30 meters. NLCD 2011 is based primarily on a decision-tree classification of circa 2011 Landsat satellite data.

Another option is to use the GAP National Land Cover Data.

The GAP national land cover data, based on the NatureServe Ecological Systems Classification, are the foundation of the most detailed, consistent map of vegetative associations ever available for the United States and will help facilitate the planning and management of biological diversity on a regional and national scale.

  • Here the link to the resource about the NLCD 2011 API – whyzar Feb 21 '16 at 23:01
  • Good links, but they're only for the USA. – Fezter Feb 21 '16 at 23:32
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I ended up finding an ArcGIS public API for the NLCD 2011 data, and writing a simple API to fetch map pixels and decode based on color.

It's free for public use at http://earth.apis.netsyms.net/. Documentation is at that address. I've noticed a couple of people trying to access that, unfortunately I don't have any need for the data anymore and it was shut down. Here's some similar code including a database dump that does the job. It also contains some OpenStreetMap data for a different purpose.

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