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TNC Story Map: Planting Healthy Air

By 2050, the majority of humanity will live in cities, towns, and other urban areas. Among the most pressing of global urban environmental challenges is air quality. In cities, the most damaging air pollutant is particulate matter (PM), but another pressing problem cities face is heat: the air is simply so hot in summer that human health is impacted. At the same time, with climate change, increasing temperatures around the world are exacerbating excess heat produced by cities and causing dangerous heat waves.

To address this concern for the future, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) investigated the effect of planting trees in urban areas. The science is clear that tree leaves play a part in removing particulate matter from the atmosphere along with many other air pollutants. Also, the shade provided by urban trees along with the transpiration of water during photosynthesis can help reduce air temperatures, while also reducing electricity needed for residential cooling. From an economic perspective, TNC found planting trees produces a significant return on investment when planted strategically in certain areas of a city.

17_trees_remove_pollution_1To determine precisely where and how much trees can help, The Nature Conservancy collected geospatial information on forest and land cover, PM2.5 pollutant concentration, and population density for 245 cities and used relationships established in the literature to estimate the scope of current and future street trees needed to make urban air healthier. The resultant report, titled “Planting Healthy Air,” advises cities on where trees offer the highest return on investment for improving public health by addressing particulate matter and excess heat.

To help visualize this data and share this story, TNC came to Blue Raster for help creating an interactive story map built on the latest Esri technology. The Planting Healthy Air story map details the project’s motivation, visualizes its geographic data and geospatial analysis, and describes a simple plan for cities to reduce pollution and temperature by planting trees. The viewer can select a section of interest or scroll through all of them, exploring and interacting with maps. Viewers can see neighborhood-level analysis in any of the 245 cities included in the report or read in-depth remarks about one of 15 focus cities.


Built on ArcGIS Online, the Planting Healthy Air story map uses Cascade, a new template designed for immersive storytelling. The story map’s interactive format allows viewers to explore the data and analysis on their own terms and get personalized information about the places that matter to them.

“Thanks to Blue Raster for all their hard work. We’re really excited about this new resource for sharing our science!”

– Misty Edgecomb, Director of Communications, Global Cities, The Nature Conservancy

Read more on this exciting project at:

Clear the Air for Children: UNICEF

Blue Raster collaborated with The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help produce Clear the Air for Children: The impact of air pollution on children. In the first analysis of its kind, Blue Raster and UNICEF used satellite imagery of outdoor air pollution in combination with global demographic data to determine that 300 million children currently live in areas with toxic levels of pollution, and 2 billion live in areas where pollution levels exceed international standards. The report also highlights that many of the poorest children were especially at risk because they have little or no access to resources for treatment and protection.

Air pollution is a critical health issue to people all over the world. Children are especially vulnerable to air pollution due to their physiology: their lungs are still developing, and exposure to harmful air during this critical period can be especially detrimental, causing life-threatening diseases. A growing number of studies are even pointing to the impacts of air pollution on a cognitive development.

UNICEF has made its mission protecting and empowering children around the world. With Blue Raster’s help, UNICEF identifies the children who are most vulnerable to the dangers of air pollution and promotes a greater understanding of this issue among governments, communities, and families. Further geospatial analysis through ArcGIS Desktop and ArcGIS Online can help us pinpoint sources of pollution and create plans for reducing pollution in the future.

“With thanks to Blue Raster, we were able to do in-depth analysis to determine how many children live in areas with high levels of air pollution. Blue Raster brought professionalism and very strong technical expertise to the project, helping us to do groundbreaking work that we hope will serve as a strong base for action on air pollution – this is not just a major threat to the environment, it is also a major threat to children’s health.”

Nicholas Rees, Policy Analysis Specialist, UNICEF New York

Staying Ahead of the Global Water Supply Shortage

Global water supply is rapidly becoming a topic that crosses international borders and stretches across watersheds, communities, and livelihoods. Well known organizations such as the United Nations, the World Wildlife Foundation and The Water Project all recognize the threat of water shortage on generations to come and that these threats will have effects far beyond environmental. These organizations estimate that:

With a clear motive and call for action, World Resources Institute and Blue Raster teamed up to create Global Forest Watch Water, allowing users to quickly identify risks to clean water in areas of deforestation, forest fires and soil erosion and to identify cost-effective natural infrastructure solutions. This public facing tool provides the means for governments, businesses, financing, institutions, and communities to create a plan for action that is educated, sustainable, and effective.


“Global Forest Watch (GFW) Water is a global mapping tool and database that examines how forest loss, fires, unsustainable land use and other threats to natural infrastructure affect water security. Users can drop a pin anywhere on the map to see the risks to nearby water supplies and find resources on how investing in natural infrastructure protection can help alleviate these threats. GFW Water looks to help downstream utilities, businesses, financing and development institutions, researchers and civil society groups quickly identify risks to ample, clean water by providing the data they need for all 230 global watersheds in an easy-to-use, accessible format.”
– Jasmine Qin, Research Analyst, World Resources Institute

The World Resources Institute is partnering with civil-society organizations to support on-the-ground results, using GFW Water information to help them secure clean water supplies. These partners include:

GFW Water leverages the Esri ArcGIS API for JavaScript and ArcGIS Image Extension for Server for its advanced mapping capabilities and the ability to produce on-the-fly analysis for selected water features. The full reports include risk scores for forest loss, erosion, fires, and baseline water stress, as well as number of water intake locations, the presence of dams, and more. The application incorporates the Esri Hydrology Service, which allows for upstream analysis as a user specifies a point placed on a map. ReactJS and Highcharts are used for enhanced user interface features including the incorporation of animated charts and graphs.


Pinpoint Deforestation with PALM Risk Tool

Global Forest Watch – Commodities is proud to announce the integration of the PALM Risk Tool (Prioritizing Areas, Landscapes and Mills), a groundbreaking tool aiming to eliminate deforestation surrounding palm oil production across Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere. With a global data set of nearly 800 palm oil mills, corporations have for the first time the resources needed to commit to deforestation-free palm oil sourcing.

Intan-Sejati-Andalan-report 3To make this tool successful in real-time, the application utilizes satellite-based data alongside regularly updated mill data. Users can select one or multiple mill sites, and analyze data surrounding this location for fire activity, tree cover loss, and high-carbon peatlands. Based on this analysis, rankings are calculated to create a more focused and efficient approach to sustainable palm oil production.

The maps utilize ArcGIS for Server while the code base integrates ArcGIS JavaScript API, Highcharts, and React JS, all working together to power an application that is accessible and reliable. In order to support the advanced analysis done on-the-fly, the application uses the ArcGIS Image Server extension and compute-histograms tools.

sarahlakeCompanies have made ambitious commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains, yet significant challenges exist to turning these commitments into action. The PALM risk tool helps address this challenge. Commodity traders and buyers can use the tool to identify the mill areas of highest priority in their supply chain in order to intervene and in turn, get the biggest bang for their buck. The tool leverages the powerful data of Global Forest Watch together with dynamic analysis in ArcGIS, allowing companies to analyze their own supply chain — as well as the first-ever mill dataset hosted by GFW — to begin moving towards their zero-deforestation goals.

-Sarah Lake, Corporate Engagement Research Analyst, Global Forest Watch

Greenpeace Indonesia

Blue Raster partnered with Greenpeace and Global Forest Watch (GFW) to help protect one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems: forests. Their threat from fires and deforestation has been characterized by some as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent history. Fires across Indonesia have far-reaching effects on both air pollution and climate change while deforestation depletes the natural forests and changes landscapes for years to come. The Greenpeace Indonesia mapping application fuses the most helpful datasets together and makes them available to the public. Datasets include: detailed concession information including forest cover, fires instances provided by NASA’s Fire Information for Resources Management System (FIRMS), and selected animal habitats. 


Greenpeace Indonesia allows decision makers to accomplish ambitious goals by getting the latest data in the hands of the public: especially in the hands of people who can act on it. The Energy Desk at Greenpeace further describes the mapping app in their post, “Investigation: Mapping Indonesia’s fires and logging rights”. Additionally, Channel NewsAsia suggests in their publication, “Greenpeace Indonesia launches map to track haze-causing fires,” that the map can be used as evidence in court — this is certainly a game changer.

This application uses the ArcGIS JavaScript API, React JS, and Flux, creating a reliable repository of data that can be viewed and downloaded within the application. Many Indonesian residents are able to have access to data for the first time, and hold land owners responsible for deforestation and illegal fires that have repercussions across Southeast Asia.


Since the catastrophic fires last year, Indonesia’s president has made commitments to ending the destruction of the carbon-rich peatlands but this will only be possible with free access to up-to-date information on land use and land tenure. In 2011, the Indonesian government promised a single mapping platform to publish this data – One Map – but it now may not see the light of day until 2019 at the earliest. We can’t wait that long, which is why we’ve compiled and released the most comprehensive concession maps available. We worked closely with the team at Blue Raster to combine our data with several other map layers provided by GFW, including fire and deforestation alerts. Together, these data sets provide an essential tool for producers, traders, consumer companies and researchers to monitor activity on the ground in near-real time and – cruicually – see who controls the land on which fires and deforestation occur. Out hope is that the Kepo Hutan maps will spur the government into action and set the standard for the official maps which are so desperately needed.

-KiKi Taufik, Coordinator of Greenpeace Indonesia’s Forests Campaign

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