Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework

The Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework (GLAHF) is an aquatic habitat database and classification framework integrating key habitat components to address local, lake-wide, and basin-wide restoration and management needs. This spatial framework covers the entire Great Lakes basin with a focus on coastal and nearshore systems. The spatial framework will provide managers with the first consistent geographic framework that has an essential capability to link, map, integrate, and track habitat classifications, assessments, indicator development, ecological forecasting, monitoring, and restoration activities across the Great Lakes.

Project Organizers & Staff

Dr. Catherine Riseng*
University of Michigan
School of Natural Resources
Assistant Research Scientist

Dr. Ed Rutherford*
NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab
Research Fishery Biologist

Dr. Lizhu Wang*
International Joint Commission
Research Scientist

Dr. Kevin Wehrly*
Institute for Fisheries Research
Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources
Fish Division Research Biologist

Lacey Mason
Institute for Fisheries Research
University of Michigan
Senior GIS Analyst

Danielle Forsyth
Institute for Fisheries Research
Michigan Dept. of Natural Resources
Research Analyst

Beth Sparks-Jackson
Institute for Fisheries Research
University of Michigan
Graduate Research Assistant


Gust Annis
The Nature Conservancy

Chris Castiglione*
US Fish & Wildlife Service

Jan Ciborowski
University of Windsor

Cindy Chu
University of Toronto

John Gaiot
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Water Resources Information Program

Tom Hollenhorst

Dana Infante*
Michigan State University

Lucinda Johnson*
University of Minnesota-Duluth
Natural Resources Research Institute

Mary Khoury
The Nature Conservancy

Jim McKenna*
US Geological Survey

Michael Laitta
International Joint Commission

Mike Robertson
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources
Land Information Ontario

Jeff Schaeffer
US Geological Survey

Scott Sowa*
The Nature Conservancy

* denotes Co-PI


Spatial Framework

In January of 2011 the Great Lakes Fishery Trust and Catherine Riseng hosted a workshop to discuss the design of a common spatial framework covering the Great Lakes with a panel of resource managers and scientists. The Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Framework spatial grid was built based on these decisions.

GLAHF is a nested grid system starting with a 9 km grid covering the entire Great Lakes Basin. Two zones were determined for this project, offshore and coastal. The offshore zone is covered by a 1.8 km grid and defined as the areas of the Great Lakes deeper than the 30 m isobath. The coastal zone is defined as the areas of the Great Lakes shallower than the 30 m isobath (or at least 1.8 km from shoreline) and a 5 km terrestrial buffer around the shoreline, coastal wetlands, drowned river mouths, and critical dunes. Habitat data is currently being summarized at these levels. Since GLAHF is a nested grid the data can be summarized into larger grids or the grid can be subdivided to accommodate finer scale data.

 Spatial Data

The GLAHF database contains spatial data in the categories listed below. We are continually adding to the database. For a detailed list of data please download the Excel file here.

Bi-national aggregated catchments
Bi-national land use/land cover
Bi-national environmental sensitivity shoreline classification
Growing degree-days
Wave action on shoreline
Lakebed geoforms
Water temperature (surface and vertical)
Spring rate of warming
Upwelling occurrence
Cumulative degree-days
Ice cover
Circulation patterns & hydroforms
Macrophyte locations
Nutrient loading
Coastal wetlands
Proximity to rivermouth
Proximity to wetland
Agricultural census
Population census
Chlorophyll-a & turbidity
Biological populations

Aquatic Habitat Classifications


The GLAHF Classification Working Group, which is a subset of the co-PIs and collaborators and additional interested scientists and resource managers in the Great Lakes Basin, are in the process of developing an ecological habitat classification of the Great Lakes coastal, nearshore and offshore zones. The hiearchical spatial framework approach follows the flowchart below.


Fish Habitat

More information coming soon.

Invasives Habitat

To help determine which portions of the Great Lakes are most vulnerable to invasions, our team is developing an an invasives habitat classification of Great Lakes habitats. The goal of this classification is to identify and map nearshore and offshore ecosystems of the Great Lakes that are relatively distinct with regard to ecosystem structure, function, and evolutionary history at multiple levelsof ecological organization. This classification will provide a geographic template and predictor variables for developing predictive species distribution models and maps for native and non-native species. Additional benefits of the classification include: to provide an ecologically meaningful geographic framework for inventory, assessment and planning efforts seeking to strategically conserve nearshore and offshore ecosystems, habitats and communities of the Great Lakes; and enhance communication among resource professionals, legislators, and the public by distinguishing, labeling, and describing the distinct nearshore and offshore ecosystems, habitats, and communities of the Great Lakes.

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Funding to support an invasives habitat classification to help determine which portions of the Great Lakes are most vulnerable to invasions has been funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Center for Sponsored Ocean and Coastal Research (CSCOR) and the USEPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), and is being conducted by scientists at The University of Notre Dame, NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, University of Michigan, and The Nature Conservancy. This team has been working with the GLAHF classification working group to develop variables that can be used for ecological classifications of Great Lakes habitats. Data layers that have been developed by this particular effort include topobathymetry (metadata), slope (metadata), cumulative degree-days (metadata), and spring rate of surface water warming (metadata).

GLAHF Web Mapping Applications

Coming soon!


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