From Space to Place: an Image Atlas of World Heritage Sites on the 'In Danger' List

A joint UNESCO / USGS project

UNESCO / USGS

Remote sensing is an important tool for UNESCO World Heritage site managers. Satellite images provide valuable information on the evolution of the sites, including loss of wildlife habitat, the expansion of human settlements and agricultural activities or the damage caused by natural disasters, armed conflicts or climate change.

Such data is crucial to mitigate threats for those World Heritage sites included in the List of World Heritage in Danger. According to the World Heritage Convention, ‘The list may include only such property forming part of the cultural and natural heritage as is threatened by serious and specific dangers, such as the threat of disappearance caused by accelerated deterioration, large- scale public or private projects or rapid urban or tourist development projects; (…) serious fires, earthquakes, landslides; volcanic eruptions; changes in water level, floods and tidal waves.’ (Article 11.4).

Across the world UNESCO Member States are striving to preserve this common heritage. They do not always have access to the most suitable technologies to observe and assess emerging threats. In order to provide the benefits of space technology to those who need it most, UNESCO has established partnerships with many leading space agencies, including the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

© UNESCO/S. Cadel
Launching of the UNESCO-USGS Publication - A Satellite Image Atlas of World Heritage Sites on the: In Danger list

UNESCO and USGS collaborated to gather the necessary data to create an atlas of World heritage sites in danger. The resulting publication, From Space to Place: an Image Atlas of World Heritage Sites on the 'In Danger' List, showcases a selection of projects of the ESA/UNESCO Open Initiative on the use of space technologies to support the World Heritage Convention. It is also a compilation of large additional series of satellite images documenting the 31 sites inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, sites threatened by looting, natural disasters, pollution, mass tourism or armed conflict.

The Atlas includes textual information and data drawn from photographic and satellite images for each site. It provides the details of each site’s inscription onto the World Heritage List, along with a brief description of the cultural and/or natural values for which the site was inscribed. It also describes the threats to the site, followed by a brief explanation of what the selected satellite imagery reveals. Each satellite image provides an exemplary tale of the utility of satellite image analysis for World Heritage site management.

 

© UNESCO/P. Chiang-Joo
Launching of the UNESCO-USGS Publication - A Satellite Image Atlas of World Heritage Sites on the: In Danger list

The Atlas was launched during UNESCO’s 36th General Conference, in November 2011, by Ms. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General, and Mr. David Killion, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United States of America to UNESCO.

The Atlas and its satellite images provide a new perspective on the looming threats to World Heritage sites; space technologies play a valuable role in assessing and understanding these threats and their associated impact. 

We hope that this Atlas will encourage and promote the use of space science and technology for the preservation of our common heritage across the world.

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