Monday, April 19, 2021

Trees, Bees and Tardigrades

There is now a reasonably long history of scientists using the Leaflet.js mapping library as a way to present and view microscopic images. In the past Leaflet has been used as a tool for visualizing high-resolution images of cells, tiny insects, pathobins and extremophile microbes. You can now add gigapixel images of tree rings to that list.

The University of Minnesota's DendroElevator is a platform for curating, analyzing and visualizing gigabyte sized images of tree rings. The Leaflet based visualization tool developed by DendroElevator can be used to present megapixel images of tree rings with tools for tree-ring measurement, dating, and annotation. 

Dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) has important applications across many different branches of science, from studying the history of climate change to authenticating archaeological objects. The University of Minnesota has used DendroElevator to curate and visualize thousands of its own tree-ring samples. They have also open-soucred the leaflet-treering code so that other institutions can implement their own tree-ring measurement, dating, and annotation platforms.

British photographer Levon Biss has also used the Leaflet mapping library to map migapixel images. In his case Leaflet is being used to showcase his beautiful extreme close-up photographs of insects. His Microsculpture website allows you to view high resolution photos of insect specimens from Oxford University Museum of Natural History in exquisitely fine detail using the Leaflet zooming and panning tools.

Each insect's completed image map consists of around 8,000 individual photographs (the large scale photographic prints are up to 3m high), captured using optical microscopes. The Leaflet mapping library really allows the user to fully explore these high resolution photos by zooming in close on the insects. The map scale in the top right-hand corner of the map provides a useful guide to the size of the insects as you zoom in & out on the images.


The Cell Image Library is a database of cell images from a wide variety of organisms. The images in the library are used to help demonstrate cellular architecture and their functions and to help advance research on cellular activity.

Each of the cell images in the Cell Image Library database can be viewed in microscopic detail on its own interactive map. If you click on the 'Open detailed viewer' link on a cell's individual entry in the database you can then explore the cell in more detail using a Leaflet map. This map allows you to zoom in and out of the cell image and pan around, just as you can with an online interactive map. The Leaflet powered cell viewer also allows you to adjust the contrast and brightness of the image and to add annotations to parts of the cell.

In 2019 Ariel Waldman led an expedition to Antarctica to film the extremophile microbes living under the Antarctic ice. The expedition found microbes living in glaciers, under the sea ice, next to frozen lakes, and in subglacial ponds.

You can explore some of the microbes found in Antarctica on Life Under the Ice. Life Under the Ice uses the Leaflet mapping platform to present microscopic videos of the microbes discovered in Antarctica. If you click on the 'What's this' button you can discover more about the microbe in the current map view, including where the microbe was discovered, its size and its level of magnification on the map.

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