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Smithsonian Institute

Biodiversity Monitoring With Soundburst

Remote monitoring devices are evolving into an essential tool for biodiversity monitoring. In conjunction with Blue Raster, scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute created Soundburst, an acoustic application to rapidly process and identify species calls in sound files produced by remote sensors. Through Soundburst, you can pair acoustic recorders with eMammal cameras to monitor birds, frogs, and bats along with land-dwelling mammals.

The application was created using R and RShiny, with functions from R packages Seewave, Tuner, and Monitor. The app allows users to rename sound files, clip sound files to create files of a shorter duration, and generate spectrograms. Users can also annotate spectrograms with species identifications, and generate a csv of metadata and identifications. Finally, users can choose to load their files to an Amazon Web Services cloud account.

Smithsonian Story Map – Tradition & 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

Although the map has since been removed from the web, it was 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.


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 Story Map has since been removed from the web.

“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.”

Traditions of Calligraphy with Ruochen

Phase II of eMammal Project ‘Captures’ Attention

Blue Raster is pleased to announce the completion of the second phase of eMammal, a collaboration between researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.   The objective of eMammal is to document the effect of recreational use of conservation areas on animal populations.  To help in the effort, citizen scientists have joined forces with the researchers to deploy camera traps near and off trails of popular parks like Shenandoah National Park and Catoctin Mountain Park. They then retrieve and process the images collected using tools created by Blue Raster in the initial phase of the project.

The first season was a huge success with over 1 million photos collected, the species identified, and the images archived and awaiting review by the researchers. With the prospect of another 3 million photos on the way with the coming second season, Smithsonian asked Blue Raster to build an Expert Review Tool that would allow them to review the images and subsequent metadata from the first season.

Using Amazon EC2 Servers and S3 as the system infrastructure, the Expert Review Tool provides scientists with the means to see the collected photos and confirm or change the species identification and individual counts made by the volunteers. The tool allows researchers the ability to monitor the progression of their review process via a dashboard and ‘favorite’ images that can then be posted to the eMammal Facebook page and in return shared with the volunteers and others interested in the project. The tool also includes an interactive map, built on Esri ArcGIS API for JavaScript, which displays the camera trap latitude and longitude points that the volunteers collected using GPS devices.

By verifying the camera trap deployment images and data as well as locations, scientists for eMammal hope to document and map species ranges and population statistics.   With the success of the first Mid-Atlantic season, the collective team at the Smithsonian Institution, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Blue Raster looks to scale eMammal to be used in other regions across the US and worldwide. The images and data collected will help answer questions about mammal distribution and abundance, aiding the efforts of wildlife conservation.

eMammal – A Citizen Scientist Camera Trapping Project

eMammal is a project where citizen scientists work in collaboration with researchers at the Smithsonian Institution and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to document mammals throughout the mid-Atlantic region, and soon, the entire country. Citizen volunteers place “camera traps”, infrared activated cameras, across the landscape in parks and other natural areas to collect photos of mammals. These photos help researchers answer questions about mammal distribution and abundance and use this information for conservation.

The first phase of this project was the Smithsonian Wild prototype funded through a grant which has evolved into eMammal.  To help manage the new camera trap data, Blue Raster and partner Orion Creative Group built a camera trap management and identification system.  Deployed on Drupal 7, the system manages volunteer and camera trap data for the research team. An Adobe AIR Desktop application allows citizen scientists to identify ‘captured’ animal photos and upload to the image repository in Amazon S3. Then the camera trap photos and metadata are collected by eMammal scientists and analyzed.

eMammal Species ID Tool

“eMammal is at the cutting edge intersection of the new technologies surrounding cloud computing and “big data” and the time honored tradition of citizens volunteering to help conservation efforts,” said Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute Conservation Biologist, Tavis Forrester, Ph.D.

The next phase of eMammal will be the creation of a robust website where photos will be displayed along with project site information. Crowd sourcing for species identification will also be explored. Keep an eye out in 2013 for these great additions to the eMammal project. Visit to see a sampling of the best photos and keep up to date on our progress.

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