Soil/vegetation–atmosphere transfer schemes (SVATS) require only a few primary parameters as inputs (leaf area index, vegetation fraction and albedo). The object of this paper is to describe methods used to derive these parameters from surface cover maps, climate maps and NDVI datasets. The resolution of these new surface parameters is 1 km at the global scale. The ECOCLIMAP database is available online to the research community at http://www.cnrm.meteo.fr/gmme/PROJETS/ECOCLIMAP/page_ecoclimap.htm. An application of this strategy for urban use at a finer scale (30mresolution) is presented here for the city of Marseille. Copyright © 2005 Royal Meteorological Society.