Finding salient, coherent regions in images is the basis for many visual tasks, and is especially important for object recognition. Human observers perform this task with ease, relying on a system in which hierarchical processing seems to have a critical role1. Despite many attempts, computerized algorithms2-5have so far not demonstrated robust segmentation capabilities under general viewing conditions. Here we describe a new, highly efficient approach that determines all salient regions of an image and builds them into a hierarchical structure. Our algorithm, segmentation by weighted aggregation, is derived from algebraic multigrid solvers for physical systems6, and consists of fine-to-coarse pixel aggregation. Aggregates of various sizes, which may or may not overlap, are revealed as salient, without predetermining their number or scale. Results using this algorithm are markedly more accurate and significantly faster (linear in data size) than previous approaches.