Global Forest Watch Fires Story Map – An Inside Look

Global Forest Watch (GFW) recently launched a new story map highlighting the functionality behind GFW Fires, an online platform for monitoring and responding to fires in Southeast Asia. The story map walks users through the platform and explains its growing role in the fight against land and forest fires.
GFW-Fires Story Map

Created using ArcGIS Online and the Map Journal Builder, the story map is organized into eight sections that users can scroll through. Each section highlights a different feature of the platform, and tells the story behind how it is helping government agencies in Indonesia, Singapore, and other countries monitor and respond to fires with more precision and speed. It also explores the environmental, economic, and social implications of these fires. From Digital Globe and Landsat high-resolution satellite imagery to wind and air quality data, the platform empowers people to combat these fires before they burn out of control and enables greater accountability where crimes of illegal burning may have been committed.

Story Map - Monitoring Air Quality

To learn more about GFW Fires and how you can get involved, check out the GFW Fires Story Map and the GFW Fires platform today.

USAID DHS Program Indicator Data API Opens Door for Innovative App Development

On the heels of the White House’s commitment to open data, Blue Raster collaborated with ICF International under The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) Program to build the DHS Indicator Data Application Programming Interface (API). Funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the API provides users direct access to over 30 years of Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data for more than 90 countries covering almost 1,500 indicators – more than 3 million records. By using this tool, developers, analysts, and researchers can obtain DHS data programmatically and develop applications that suit their needs.

The DHS Program Indicator Data API

The API was developed by Blue Raster on the ColdFusion Web Application platform. Developers can query the DHS data using both a RESTful interface, which allows selecting parameters including countries, indicators, and surveys, as well as a conventional query-based interface which provides advanced options for obtaining more customized results. For those looking to query large sets of data, the API offers additional parameters that control the format, citation, and version information. Additionally, JSON, XML, CSV and HTML output formats are supported to provide users with flexibility.

DHS Program API Application Showcase

In the spirit of openness, the DHS Program has put together tips and code samples in JavaScript, ColdFusion, .NET, Python, R, Stata, and more to help users get started. You can even register to be a DHS API partner which allows you access to a larger number of entries returned per page and assistance in application development.

Trever Croft, DHS Program’s Capacity Strengthening Technical Coordinator, says:

“The DHS API provides a new level of access to DHS data. Blue Raster has produced a wonderfully simple but powerful tool that will power both the DHS website and STATcompiler as well as users and developers own applications.”

For more details, visit the DHS Indicator Data API website. Let us know if you build an app, and follow the API on Twitter (@DHSprogramAPI).

Global Forest Watch-Fires using High-Resolution Imagery to better respond to Fires

Fires across Indonesia are one of the largest threats to the life, environment, and people who rely on Indonesian land. To address these risks, Blue Raster partnered with the World Resources Institute (WRI), Esri, DigitalGlobe, Google and others to launch the Global Forest Watch-Fires (GFW-Fires) online platform. GFW-Fires was built using Esri’s ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS API for Javascript. The platform contains comprehensive information on the locations of fires, land use, land cover and conservation areas.

Global Forest Watch Fires

Users can view locations of fires on peat lands, which has become imperative due to environmental and health implications, including haze and smoke that result from burning on high carbon soils. FORESTS News reports that, “Peat fires were the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 (larger than energy).” What makes this application truly exceptional, is the addition of DigitalGlobe’s remarkable 50 centimeter resolution satellite imagery, giving a bird’s eye view sharp enough to see each tree on the ground.

Global Forest Watch Fires

With the help of NASA’s MODIS data and imagery, used to locate the fires, DigitalGlobe can now be directed to a location to take super high resolution images. This imagery is so clear that you can easily distinguish between healthy and dead vegetation, the type of vegetation effected, view and draw burn area boundaries, and detect previously existing burn scars. This allows accountability to be assigned to the fires, as one now has the tools to investigate where and how these fires have started. What was once a point on a map can now be confirmed through close to real-time imagery. In additon, the user can then view wind direction and air quality data, key components of determining who will be effected downwind.

Global Forest Watch Fires

Often, a fire may be located in Indonesia, but the toxic air is carried to a neighboring island in Malaysia or Singapore. By utilizing the ArcGIS Image Extension for Server, the platform computes and provides statistics on a selected area of interest, and allows the user to export the analysis in a report. In order to get this information to the public, GFW-Fires also offers an SMS Alerts system, using the Twilio platform. The addition of this capability has made it possible for Global Forest Watch to achieve their goals of responding to environmental hazards faster than ever before. It is now possible to locate a fire, confirm and analyze the fire, and get the word out through SMS Alerts in a matter of minutes.

Global Forest Watch Fires

Using the extensive amount of data available on the platform, users have the  capacity to voice their concern and request change towards a sustainable future free of dangerous smog and land conflict.

Susan Minnemeyer, WRI’s Senior Mapping and Data Manager for Global Forest Watch, says:

“The website puts near-real time data and analysis tools in the hands of citizens and decision makers to learn more about developing fires crises and effectively respond. Working with Blue Raster, we were able to develop the site over only a few weeks and automate analysis our GIS team had been doing in house.”

Read more by the World Resources Institutes’ blog series on Indonesia Forest Fires.

Smithsonian Story Map – Tradition and the Art of Living China

The second in a series of story maps for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Tradition and the Art of Living China highlights the culture bearers appearing at the 2014 Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. Built by Blue Raster and Cricket Media, the map allows users to experience the artistry and heritage of those keeping China’s diverse traditions alive.

Tradition and the Art of Living China Story Map built by Blue Raster

Created using ArcGIS Online, the story map integrates photographs of the Folklife Festival participants and their work. As a result, it offers a comprehensive look into the cultural heritage of China. From calligraphy and pottery, to martial arts, users worldwide can explore the unique stories of these tradition bearers.

Tradition and Art of Living China

Smithsonian’s Virtual Field Trip around the Globe‏

The Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and Cricket Media, an education media company and global learning network, recently invited kids from around the world to identify and interview people who exemplify important traditions in their communities, then asked them to document and present their stories.

Traditions of the World Story Map

Cricket Media and Blue Raster created the Traditions of the World story map using ArcGIS Online, highlighting the top video submissions from kids ages 8-18 from around the world.  The result is an interactive virtual field trip with lively hosts that include a 9 year old boy from West Bengal India showing traditional saris being hand woven and students in China documenting everything from dumpling making to martial arts.

The challenge was launched in coordination with the Smithsonian Center’s annual June-July Washington D.C.-based Folklife Festival and extends the folklife experience to millions of students globally.

“The challenge inspired students to explore the richness of their local traditions and unique stories of tradition bearers, and the map created by Blue Raster captured this amazing student work in an engaging way that will preserve these traditions for generations to come,” said Cricket Media CEO, Katya Andresen.  “It’s a truly unique, global digital museum, curated by kids.”

Calligraphy Ruochen

Global Forest Watch Commodities – Geospatial Tools to Help Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Land Use Change

A new initiative from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) aims to shed light on how individual oil palm concessions affect forest information that can empower companies to manage their forests and supply chains more sustainably. Global Forest Watch-Commodities (GFW-Commodities), a new platform produced by Blue Raster combines the RSPO’s maps of certified sustainable palm oil production sites with global forest data like tree cover loss, forest clearance, locations of primary forests and legal land classifications. Armed with these new maps and knowledge, companies can reduce the risk that the palm oil they purchase contributes to deforestation.

Global Forest Watch-Commodities built by Blue Raster.

WRI analysis has shown that companies, communities, NGOs and different levels of government often have different information about forest use. These maps will act as a universally available, coherent and current source of information for any of these above groups to utilize in their work to make palm oil production sustainable for the environment and the communities that rely on it.

Global Forest Watch-Commodities built by Blue Raster

GFW-Commodities was built on Esri’s ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS API for JavaScript. It leverages the Image Extension for ArcGIS Server, to compute, analyze and provide statistics on tree cover loss over time, near real time forest clearing and fires within selected areas of interest.  The analysis features come out-of-the-box with Esri’s Image Extension for ArcGIS Server. Satellite data including Landsat and MODIS are mosaiced and allow for analysis on-the-fly as users explore their areas of interest. 

Key features of each tool:

  • Suitability Mapper
    • Ability to set own suitability criteria based on a range of environmental factors
    • Identifies degraded areas as alternative to development on forest areas
  • Forest Analyzer
    • Detailed land cover data, include data layers on forests, tree cover, and peat lands all important to zero deforestation goals and climate change strategies
    • Additional data layers on protected areas and population density
  • RSPO Support tool
    • - Never-before accessible maps of certified areas for palm oil production
    • - Analysis of forest change on certified areas
    • - Analysis necessary for RSPO compensation procedure

Features of all three tools:

    • Option for users to upload their own shape file for analysis
    • Download data and results for further analysis

The Global Forest Watch platform is at the forefront in its field and will continue to grow and evolve with its use, applying technology for a sustainable world. Read more about the project and WRI’s efforts towards sustainability in Wired magazine – “How a New Map of Palm Oil Plantations Could Help Save Rainforests.”

Videos of Application:

Featured at Esri UC 2014

Tutorial by World Resources Institute

Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunites

The world has lost almost half of its original forest cover, largely tied to accelerated population growth and agricultural expansion. Although forests are quickly disappearing, there is a tremendous amount of unused land that if restored, could support woodlands. Through the Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities, it has been found that more than 2 billion hectares (about 8 million square miles) of land worldwide have the potential to be restored, many of which are located in unexpected regions.

Blue Raster and the World Resource Institute created an online mapping application helping users find suitable land for sustainable agriculture. Sustainability and Restoration are key components of saving our environment, so these map projects are extremely useful tools.

6-4-2014 4-18-36 PM

The Atlas also shows restoration potential for individual countries and regions. For example, Cambodia’s tropical forests have been damaged by illegal logging and plantations giving it the highest percentage of land in the world (30 percent) with opportunity for wide-scale restoration.  Many opportunities for restoration lie in the northern portion of the country due to low population density. The areas of land highlighted in red represent deforestation that has occurred within the last decade.

Samples of the many atlas layers

Built using the ArcGIS API for JavaScript and ArcGIS Server, the application allows analysis of potential land use and can help professionals better understand and visualize actions, such as forest restoration, that need to be taken in order to save resources that we all rely on.

Suitability Mapper: Finding Sustainable Palm Oil Sites

The power of GIS as a tool to help manage our planet’s natural resources is limited only by the insightfulness of our questions. Fortunately, more timely and detailed data becomes available every year, so we are free to ask an ever-wider range of questions, such as:

  • In relation to agriculture, what factors affect our ability to sustainably produce crops, and how do these factors change across the landscape?
  • Where should agriculture expand, and where should it retract?


Blue Raster, along with partners World Resources Institute (WRI) and Sekala, has developed an interactive web application allowing users to customize criteria for sustainable agriculture and find sites for sustainable palm oil across Indonesia.

Upon entering the Suitability Mapper, users visualize various layers superimposed on the Indonesian landscape including elevation, hill slope, rainfall, and soil acidity. WRI provides a two-color layer showing the distribution of areas deemed “potentially suitable” (purple) and “unsuitable” (yellow) for sustainable palm oil production.

suitability layers

Taking analysis a step further, the user can adjust the criteria for this suitability layer by adjusting controls linked to each palm oil variable. In the screenshot below, I have adjusted the suitability analysis to increase the mandatory distance from conservation areas and water resources. With my custom analysis complete, I can use drawing tools to summarize the results for a specific area. Results include the area’s legal status, amount of suitable area, distance from nearby roads, legal status, and whether an oil palm concession already exists in the location.


The Suitability Mapper was built on top of Esri’s ArcGIS Server and ArcGIS API for JavaScript. Using the Image Extension for ArcGIS Server, we are able to analyze and compute accurate suitability maps in realtime based on user-supplied criteria. Instead of investing large amounts of time in software development and maintenance, we were able to use the out-of-the-box features of Esri’s Image Extension for ArcGIS Server to achieve the goals of the project. This platform  will also make it easier to add more and better data as it becomes available, to continually improve our analysis, inform key stakeholders, and make better decisions.  

Suitability Mapper is part of the Global Forest Watch platform which has many new features coming soon with the launch of its Commodities analysis tool.  Stay tuned for more information and launch dates soon. 

REL EdMaps Helps Analyze School Data in the Midwest

How has poverty changed in the Midwest region since 2000? This question as well as others related to eduction priorities in the Midwest can be answered with the REL Midwest’s newly launched EdMaps.

EdMaps is a mapping application that displays educational data as “story maps” with the focus of building knowledge across the REL’s four educational priority areas. Built by Blue Raster, EdMaps helps users analyze publicly available school- and district-level data, observe trends over time and frame conversations on practice and policy.

REL Midwest EdMaps

In its initial debut, EdMaps includes story maps on graduation rates and poverty levels and future releases of the application will allow a choice of data to overlay and compare over time.

Matt Burke, project leader, says:

We believe that education stakeholders throughout our region will benefit greatly from being able to identify and compare particular schools, districts, and states, observe trends over time and demographic shifts, and create custom data displays from a wide variety of publicly available data. We hope that EdMaps will serve as a useful tool to help frame conversations on practice and policy, and the development of this tool would not have been possible without the knowledgeable and skillful staff at Blue Raster.

The data is delivered by ArcGIS for Server deployed in the Amazon Cloud and uses the ArcGIS API for JavaScript. School District data trends are leveraging with the Dojo Toolkit and HighCharts API.

To view the application, visit

New WRI map confirms long suspected notions of natural resource rights across sub-Saharan Africa

The World Resources Institute (WRI) announced today the launch of their newest online mapping application, the Rights to Resources map. Built by Blue Raster, the tool visualizes resource rights in Africa and allows users to compare findings across countries and resources: water, trees, wildlife, minerals and petroleum.

The data displayed in the tool is the outcome of WRI’s systematic review of the national framework laws across the 5 resources. The results of which confirm long suspected notions that across sub-Saharan Africa, few national laws provide communities with strong, secure rights to the resources on their land and that rights to many high-value natural resources are held by the state.

Rights To Resources Map

For instance, take WRI’s example of the situation in Ghana:

 “Naturally-occurring trees are nominally owned by the chieftaincy or traditional authorities, but commercial rights to timber species belong to the state.  With only weak rights, many farmers are reluctant to plant timber trees. Some resort to destroying or removing trees on their farms before logging companies come to harvest.”

The new Rights to Resources application endeavors to strengthen and secure resource rights for communities in sub-Saharan Africa while incentivizing sustainable management of local resources.

To learn more about the project and review the application, check out WRI’s Land and Resource Rights project page.