Space surveillance protects heritage sites (China Daily)

China’s satellites are providing a protective eye for the ruins of Angkor Wat, as the magnificent temples of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia face inundation by tourists and threats from environmental dangers.

“Basically, we have eyes in the sky, and we can immediately see what happens to the ancient temples and their environment,” said Hong Tianhua, deputy director and secretary-general of the International Centre on Space Technologies for Natural and Cultural Heritage.

It is the first and only institute to use remote sensing technology to preserve cultural heritage sites under UNESCO.

Chinese satellites use remote sensing to collect and process images of the site in real time, instantly observing and analyzing the effects of natural disasters, as well as crowd control and on-site monitoring.

“For the first time, our systems are monitoring the temples and their neighboring mountains and rivers. Those temples are sacred places for locals and mean a lot to them. They are grateful and we are proud to help,” he said.

Since the 1980s, UNESCO has been helping the preservation and rebuilding of Angkor Wat, which was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1992.

China, together with more than 20 countries, began helping with the restoration of the ruins of Angkor Wat in 2000. Most of the 98 temples were completed by 2013.

“The restoration took a lot of time and effort, since the temples were built with stone. Specific stones of the same type and size were required to preserve the originality of the architecture”, said Hong.

More tourist facilities had been built to cater to the huge number of visitors, putting pressure on underground water supplies and harming the environment through increased logging.

“We noticed, through the ‘sky eyes’ system, that forests to the north of the heritage site are decreasing as hotels mushroom, and underground water levels are falling. We have reported the discoveries to the site managing authorities for them to deal with,” said Hong.

China has also assisted with technology training for managers and researchers of world heritage sites from 12 developing countries in Asia and Africa, including Cambodia, through international workshops.

Trained staff can now compare new data with that collected in the past to identify any abnormal changes, and can also create 3-D visualization of large sites for analysis, providing a scientific basis for decision-making, said Hong.

(China Daily 08/11/2015 page1)