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.”

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.

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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.

NFWF maps 12K Conservation Grants with ArcGIS

To help illustrate the extensive geographic reach of their mission and impact of their conservation programs, Blue Raster built the Where We Work web map for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The mapping application allows supporters to visualize where NFWF is working and learn more about individual grants of interest. Matt Foster, Monitoring and Biodiversity Officer at NFWF, has this to say about the map – “The interactive map showing NFWF projects over the past 30 years is a great asset.  It really helps to convey the breadth of NFWF work in the U.S. and around the world and describes the wide range of actions that we support.”

NFWF Grant Mapper

Built on ArcGIS for Server using the ArcGIS API for JavaScript, NFWF’s Where We Work map allows filtering based on time, location, and various other grant attributes including the associated conservation program. The Flickr API provides images for the various projects.

To see the map in action and explore the years of conservation work supported by NFWF, go to

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) is a Congressionally-chartered foundation, specifically charged with the administration of monies to “further the conservation and management of fish, wildlife, plants, and other natural resources” of the United States (National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Establishment Act, 16 U.S.C. §3701 et seq.). Since 1984, NFWF has become one of the world’s largest conservation grant-makers with more than 12,100 grants totaling over $2.1 billion.

Famine Early Warning Systems Network – Launches Website

How does USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) prepare for famine assistance to the world’s neediest? One success story is the Famine Early Warning Systems Network at

Blue Raster assisted in releasing the new FEWS NET and is proud to partner with Chemonics International and Forum One in launching the new tool. Blue Raster automated the generation of forecasting maps for the 37 monitored countries, making the maps available sooner to decision makers. Two side-by-side comparative maps of food-security outlooks are produced for every region, and the countries are colored according to their food security, highlighting areas of Stress, Crisis, Emergency and Famine.


FEWS NET is a collaboration of international, regional and national partners to provide timely and rigorous early-warning and vulnerability information on emerging and evolving food security issues. Once identified, FEWS NET uses a suite of communications and decision-support products to help decision makers act to mitigate food insecurity.

The tech behind the site are ArcGIS Desktop and Python Tools as well as ArcGIS Server delivering dynamic maps.  Node.js delivers both dynamic and static maps as needed throughout the Drupal CMS, with tight integration allowing Drupal admins to access maps for report pages during periodic updates. The servers are hosted in the Amazon Cloud environment taking advantage of S3 as well.

National School Boundaries – Mapping Attendance Areas

Beginning in November 2013, school districts across the United States will be able to draw, upload, or update previous year school boundaries in a web-editing application as part of the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Blue Raster developed NCES’s online feature-drawing and editing application using Esri’s ArcGIS for Server and JavaScript API. One of the biggest challenges was offering a customized editing toolset for the non-technical district representatives who best know their school attendance areas.


Once processed, the school boundaries will be freely available for visualization and download on the NCES School District Demographics System website.  By providing the public with detailed boundary information, it will be possible for the public, researchers, and policy makers to examine relationships between schools covering many demographic, social and economic indices.

NCES has initiated this 2013 School Attendance Boundary Survey (SABS) with support from the U.S Census Bureau, to collect school boundaries for the 13,000+ U.S. school districts. This represents more than 100,000 public elementary and secondary schools from the Common Core of Data (CCD) school universe.

Blue Raster has delivered innovative data-visualization techniques for NCES using the latest Esri ArcGIS-for-Server technologies, ArcGIS Online offerings, Python and many JavaScript tools such as data-driven documents (d3.js) .