I am using a US federal lands polygon layer (http://coastalmap.marine.usgs.gov/GISdata/basemaps/boundaries/fedlands/fedlanp020.htm)

I downloaded the layer, reprojected as Albers Equal Area, and then created a 25 km buffer around the polygons. I have been trying to use Tabulate Intersection (ArcGIS 10.2 toolbox), with the buffer as the zones and the original federal lands polygon layer as the classes in order to calculate the percentage area within each buffer that is federal. However, output is empty.

I have tried the following:

  1. Check geometry
  2. Repair geometry
  3. Place both in the same geodatabase
  4. Export as individual shapefiles
  5. subset the buffer feature class (10000 and 1000 rows)
  6. Select all and then run tabulate intersection
  7. Opened new .mxd with only the two input files included

Tabulate Intersection will work when a few records are highlighted, but won't work on any subsets > 1000 records. Overlapping polygons don't seem to be an issue. I know R, so am willing to give that a shot, but have found that it bogs down with this many polygons.

I also attempted to use the intersect tool and received the error messages "ERROR 999999 Error executing function . .Table was not found . . . Invalid Topology". Other stack exchange messages suggest this relates to memory.

Is there a way using Arcpy/Python to iterate over the buffer feature class and perform the calculation on the individual polygons and concatenate the results?

  • Most probably it is not going to work but want to ask anyway, have you tried Union tool (not Intersect) to see if it is working. If it does, basically all results that you will gather from Tabulate Intersection will be there but need you to process further. To me using Tabulate Intersection provides a bit of convenience but the mother of all overlay tools, Union, gives you everything :).
    – fatih_dur
    Jan 11, 2016 at 1:04
  • One more thing, according to my experience, one or a few godzilla polygons (see a resolution for that here, blogs.esri.com/esri/arcgis/2010/07/23/…) are the cause of overlay tool failure. And sometimes dicing might not help either (or the polygon cannot be diced at all), FYI.
    – fatih_dur
    Jan 11, 2016 at 1:07
  • I checked the number of vertices on each of the polygons. 25K was the highest; Did not seem to present a problem. Here is the code for the loop I mentioned in the question.
    – user44796
    Jan 11, 2016 at 21:35

4 Answers 4


I recommend installing 64bit ArcGIS Background Processing. This is not installed with the vanilla ArcGIS Desktop setup. The file is named something like, ArcGIS_BackgroundGP_for_Desktop_1031_145711.exe. After the install, enable it in ArcMap by checking Geoprocessing Options, enable Background Processing. This should fix your problem.

  • I have run into the same problem but unfortunately installing and enabling the background processing only provided the error statement faster. Nov 12, 2019 at 20:35

First make sure you have the data locally, preferably on a machine with lots of memory and an SSD... that can help. Check the coordinate systems and make sure they're the same. I've had success using QGIS for big data sets rather than ArcGIS (processing time down to hours from weeks)... Alternatively you can loop the operation in python, but that may be more pain than just trying it in QGIS.

Good luck :-)

  • I end up both using QGIS and a python script. Here is the code
    – user44796
    Jan 11, 2016 at 21:37

I agree that using the 64 bit background processing may be the best way to go, but I can't wait for our IT people. I ended up using a python script that looped through the feature class. Code below could definitely be improved, but it got the job done for me. Any suggestions on improvement would be appreciated.

import arcpy
from arcpy import env

env.workspace = "C:/GIS/US/FederalLands/Federal_Lands.gdb" ## path to feature class
featureClass = "C:/GIS/US/FederalLands/Federal_Lands.gdb/Fed_25KmBuff" ## path to feature class
fieldList = arcpy.ListFields(featureClass) ### simply pointer to location

row = 1 ## initiate

while row < 49779:
    print row
    arcpy.FeatureClassToFeatureClass_conversion(in_features="Fed_25KmBuff",out_path="C:/GIS/US/FederalLands/Federal_Lands.gdb",out_name="Temp",where_clause=("OBJECTID >= " + str(row) + " AND OBJECTID < " + str(row + 100) ))
    if row == 1:
    elif row > 1:

    row = row + 100

I had the same problem with ArcGIS's tabulate Intersection function and decided to learn to use R to tackle the problem. Here's my code using multi-core processing with a more detailed answer here, to do this using R.

#initiate multicore cluster and load packages

cores<- 7
cl <- makeCluster(cores, output="") #output should make it spit errors

Here's the function:

    multicore.tabulate.intersect<- function(cores, polygonlist, rasterlayer){ 
      foreach(i=1:cores, .packages= c("raster","tcltk","foreach"), .combine = rbind) %dopar% {

    mypb <- tkProgressBar(title = "R progress bar", label = "", min = 0, max = length(polygonlist[[i]]), initial = 0, width = 300) 

    foreach(j = 1:length(polygonlist[[i]]), .combine = rbind) %do% {
      tryCatch({ #not sure if this is necessary now that I'm using foreach, but it is useful for loops.

        single <- polygonlist[[i]][j,] #pull out individual polygon to be tabulated

        dir.create (file.path("c:/rtemp",i,j,single@data$OWNER), showWarnings = FALSE) #creates unique filepath for temp directory
        rasterOptions(tmpdir=file.path("c:/rtemp",i,j, single@data$OWNER))  #sets temp directory - this is important b/c it can fill up a hard drive if you're doing a lot of polygons

        clip1 <- crop(rasterlayer, extent(single)) #crop to extent of polygon
        clip2 <- rasterize(single, clip1, mask=TRUE) #crops to polygon edge & converts to raster
        ext <- getValues(clip2) #much faster than extract
        tab<-table(ext) #tabulates the values of the raster in the polygon

        mat<- as.data.frame(tab)
        final<-cbind(single@data$OWNER,mat) #combines it with the name of the polygon
        unlink(file.path("c:/rtemp",i,j,single@data$OWNER), recursive = TRUE,force = TRUE) #delete temporary files
        setTkProgressBar(mypb, j, title = "number complete", label = j)

      }, error=function(e){cat("ERROR :",conditionMessage(e), "\n")}) #trycatch error so it doesn't kill the loop

    #close(mypb) #not sure why but closing the pb while operating causes it to return an empty final dataset... dunno why. 

So to use it, adjust the single@data$OWNER to fit with the column name of your identifying polygon (guess that could have been built into the function...) and put in:

myoutput <- multicore.tabulate.intersect(cores, polygonlist, rasterlayer)

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