The Most Detailed Ecological Land Units Map of the World

Esri and the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) have announced the development of the highest-spatial-resolution ecological land units (ELUs) map of the world ever produced. The global ELUs map portrays a systematic division and classification of ecological and physiographic information about land surface features. The work was commissioned by the intergovernmental Group on Earth Observations (GEO), and published in a special print publication by the Association of American Geographers (AAG).

View the PDF booklet


Esri’s Charlie Frye and Peter Aniello and USGS’s Roger Sayre answer questions at the booth display in the exhibit hall of “A Community on Ecosystems Services” (ACES) conference where the project was announced.

“This map provides, for the first time, a web-based, GIS-ready, global ecophysiographic data product for land managers, scientists, conservationists, planners, and the public to use for global and regional scale landscape analysis and accounting,” said Roger Sayre from the USGS. “The Global ELU map advances an objective, repeatable, ‘big data’ approach to the synthesis and classification of important earth surface data layers into distinct and ecologically meaningful land units.”

The ELUs provide a spatial accounting framework for assessments of ecosystem services, such as carbon storage and soil formation, as well as important risks such as environmental degradation. Esri has created a Story Map and custom app that allow for additional exploration and insight.

“The ecological land units also lend themselves to the study of ecological diversity, rarity and evolutionary isolation,” said Randy Vaughan from Esri. “For example we can identify the most diverse landscapes in terms of unique ecological land features. Understanding diversity can point the way to improved conservation planning.”

The data will also be important to the study of environmental change,” added Sayre. “The objective and automated approach to the classification means that the mapping can be updated as better or more current input layers are created. The creation of change layers can also be automated.”

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the release of Esri’s and the U. S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) highest spatial resolution of ecological land units (ELUs) map of the world ever produced.

The project was introduced during A Community on Ecosystems Services’ (ACES) conference keynote by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. She announced the release of two new hubs of datasets that are part of the Climate Data Initiative (CDI), a key feature of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan to help local and state leaders build greater community resilience in the face of climate change.  Jewell reported that hundreds of datasets from numerous federal departments and agencies have been consolidated into two thematic CDI data hubs for “Ecosystem Vulnerability” and “Water,” and are now available online to the public for free. The keynote was presented on Dec. 9, 2014, in Crystal City, Va.

The maps and data will be highlighted during the AAG annual meeting in Chicago April 21-25, 2014, at a special physical geography session, titled “A New Map of Global Ecological Land Units.” In addition, each attendee of the annual meeting will receive the special print publication. If you would like to purchase a copy, email the AAG at puborder [at] aag [dot] org.

Learn more about the Global ELUs map at

Roger Sayre of USGS talked about the specific project: “A New Map of Global Ecological Land Units” during a town hall session at “A Community on Ecosystems Services” (ACES) conference on Dec. 10.



Dawn Wright of Esri highlighted the print version of “A New Map of Global Ecological Land Units” during a town hall session at “A Community on Ecosystems Services” (ACES) conference on Dec. 10.