GEO – Earth Observation in Cultural Heritage

Implementation mechanism: A GEO Community Activity. Objectives and Motivations



Implementation mechanism: A GEO Community Activity


Cultural heritage is a testimony of past human activity, and, as such, cultural heritage objects exhibit great variety in their nature, size and complexity; from small artifacts and museum items to cultural landscapes, from historic buildings and ancient monuments to city centers and archaeological sites (Patias, 2007).

Cultural heritage around the globe suffers from wars, natural disasters and human negligence. The importance of cultural heritage documentation is well recognized and there is an increasing pressure to document our heritage both nationally and internationally. This has alerted international organizations to the need for issuing guidelines describing the standards for documentation.

Charters, resolutions and declarations by international organizations underline the importance of documentation of cultural heritage for the purposes of conservation works, management, appraisal, assessment of the structural condition, archiving, publication and research. Important ones include the International Council on Monuments and Sites, ICOMOS and UNESCO, including the famous Venice Charter, The International Charter for the Conservation and Restoration of Monuments and Sites, 1964, (ICOMOS 2005UNESCO, 2005).

Only recently new nominated WH sites are proposed with some cartographic information included in the nomination file request. Terrestrial, aerial or satellite imagery are rarely included. The problem is even worst when we consider World Heritage sites nominated some years ago. Most of them they do not have proper cartography with detailed buffer zones indicated, etc.

Recent high resolutions satellite imagery provides the means to easily map areas in large scales. Archive map and photographs are lucked. Although UNESCO provides now some minor specifications these specifications are not at all considered for old inscribed sites. Only if these detailed specifications are provided as well as about how remotely sensed data can be used to derive such cartography can the UNESCO request to the countries to provide improved cartography for the UNESCO World Heritage database.

Especially in times of either natural disasters or conflicts, the safeguarding of CH diversity almost mandates the use of EO images. Recent prominent examples are the Unesco’s Observatory for the Safeguarding of Syria’s Cultural Heritage [URL1], or UNESCO/UNITAR-UNOSAT teaming to Protect Cultural Heritage with the Latest Geo-Spatial Technologies [URL2].

Earth Observation can highly accelerate the documentation of CH, while engaging multi-disciplinary societies (eg. archaeologists, architects, historians, librarians, etc) in GEO activities, not previously interested. A quick search at the Google Trends reveal the simple fact that the terms “cultural heritage” and “cartography” are much more frequently used by the public than the more technical and less popular term “earth observation”.

The importance and global coverage of CH sites does not need much argumentation. We will only note the international institutional interest like the specific interest of UNESCO [URL3], the existence and activities of the CIPA [URL4] (a joint venture of ISPRS and ICOMOS), the extended activities in CH and EO of ISPRS [URL5], the cartographic activities of ICA [URL6] or the extended list of trans-domain projects supported by COST [URL7].

Moreover, the proposal is well in line with the GEO Objectives and the related challenged SBAs, such as: Air pollution, Man-caused hazards, Natural disasters, Climate change, etc.

Potential Contributors

Contact Name
Petros Patias The Aristotle University, Greece
Chen Jun (P) ISPRS – The International Society for Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing
Orhan Altan (1st VP)
Lena Halounova (CD)
Andreas Georgopoulos (P) CIPA – The International Committee for Documentation of Cultural Heritage
Fulvio Rinaudo
Mario Santana ICOMOS – International Council on Monuments and Sites
Ana Almagro Vidal
Michael Doneus
Evangelos Livieratos ICA – The International Cartographic Association
Joao Martins COST – TD1406: Innovation in Intelligent Management of Heritage Buildings (i2MHB)
Heinz Saler Baden-Wurttemberg Stipendium BWS – University of Karlsruhe
Jose Luis Lerma University of Valencia
Wang Xinyuan (DD) Chinese Academy of Sciences

Activities and outputs planned for 2016

Planned Activity
Place / Date
User involvement / Funding source
Dedicated website for the activity

To be announced in the

CIPA Symposium

in Tapei, Taiwan 31/8 – 5/9 2015


Funded by AUTH

Exchange of know-how, experiences and ideas, invitation to get involved

To be announced in

COST-i2MHB meeting

in Spain 27 – 28 January 2016


Funded by COST

Special Session  SpS7 – GEO:Earth Observation and Societal Benefits:Global issues and best practices

Prague, CZ

12-19 July, 2016


Funded by ISPRS

Summer School Valencia, Spain, Summer 2016

3 EU universities

Funded by Baden-Württemberg Stipendium BWS +

Future plans

In general the envisaged Activities include:

  • Mobilize multi-disciplinary communities in EO
  • Provide a forum to international organizations, scientists, stakeholders and wide public
  • Exchange of know-how, experiences and ideas
  • Showcase best practices
  • Promote innovation in use of EO/GEOSS to CH activities
  • Connect CH to other SBAs
  • Provide expertise in extreme/rapid calamities to international organizations
  • Capitalize on previously financed activities/projects
  • Organize expert meetings, dissemination info-days, capacity building workshops together with other organizations (eg. UNESCO, ICOMOS, ICCROM, ISPRS, CIPA etc)