Great Lakes Region

Based on four main variables, researchers from multiple institutions, including the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, have organized the Great Lakes into 77 Aquatic Ecological Units (AEUs). The classification system took six years to create and incorporates multiple NOAA datasets, including depth, temperature patterns and circulation patterns throughout the lakes.

Catherine Riseng, a researcher with the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, is lead author on the paper. She says the work “simplifies a complex ecosystem” and can be used by researchers to help describe and explain existing ecological patterns and by resource managers to facilitate inventory surveys, evaluate the status and trends, and track the effects of human disturbance across different types of ecological units. Read more at

The work was done as part of the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework (GLAHF), which is a comprehensive spatial framework, database, and classification for Great Lakes ecological data.

The classification data will soon be available for download at For now, you can interactively explore the AEUs and related datasets at

A map of the Great Lakes classifies regions that are ecologically similar.

Researchers have developed a classification system for the Great Lakes that groups regions with similar characteristics. Credit Lacey Mason/GLAHF


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