Cumulative Impacts Model


The Cumulative Impacts Model estimates and visualizes the impact humans are having on the ocean's ecosystems. Maps are created of all types of human activities that directly or indirectly have an impact on the ecological communities in chosen ecosystems.

For the global marine project, maps were used for 17 different activities in categories like fishing, climate change, and pollution. Maps were also gathered for 14 distinct marine ecosystems and modeled the distribution of 6 others. To estimate the ecological consequences of these activities, researchers quantified the vulnerability of different marine ecosystems (e.g., mangroves, coral reefs, or seamounts) to each of these activities. The cumulative impact map was then created by overlaying the 17 threat maps onto the ecosystems, and using the vulnerability scores to translate the threats into a metric of ecological impact. Finally, using global estimates of the condition of marine ecosystems from previous studies, researchers were able to ground-truth their impact scores.

Data summarized in the final map provides critical information for evaluating where certain activities can continue with little effect on the oceans, where other activities might need to be stopped or moved to less sensitive areas, and where to focus efforts on protecting the last pristine areas. As management and conservation of the oceans turns toward marine protected areas (MPAs), ecosystem-based management (EBM) and ocean zoning to manage human influence, hopefully this study will be useful to managers, conservation groups and policymakers.

What Is It?

Modeling and analysis tool

  • Geographic Information System (GIS)
  • Watershed Model
  • Estuarine and marine ecosystem model

Visualization tool (for data and scenarios)


  • GIS based and uses the GIS platform: GRASS, ArcGIS

  • Tool does simulations

  • The tool can be applied to any system (terrestrial, freshwater, marine) at any scale, depending on data availability

Expertise Needed

Technical expertise: Extensive computer/GIS/programming training required

Scientific expertise:  Some scientific background necessary

Equipment needs: high-speed processors, large data-storage capacity

Types of Data Needed

  • Spatial data on ecosystem extent and stressors to those ecosystems
  • Ecosystem vulnerability data

How Do I Get It?


Tool cost: Free

Contact Information

Developer: Ben Halpern, Kimberly Selkoe, Fiorenza Micheli and Carrie Kappel

Tool contact: Ben Halpern