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The reconstruction of neural circuits from serial section electron microscopy (ssEM) images is being accelerated by automatic image segmentation methods. Segmentation accuracy is often limited by the preceding step of aligning 2D section images to create a 3D image stack. Precise and robust alignment in the presence of image artifacts is challenging, especially as datasets are attaining the petascale. We present a computational pipeline for aligning ssEM images with several key elements. Self-supervised convolutional nets are trained via metric learning to encode and align image pairs, and they are used to initialize iterative fine-tuning of alignment. A procedure called vector voting increases robustness to image artifacts or missing image data. For speedup the series is divided into blocks that are distributed to computational workers for alignment. The blocks are aligned to each other by composing transformations with decay, which achieves a global alignment without resorting to a time-consuming global optimization. We apply our pipeline to a whole fly brain dataset, and show improved accuracy relative to prior state of the art. We also demonstrate that our pipeline scales to a cubic millimeter of mouse visual cortex. Our pipeline is publicly available through two open source Python packages.