The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage is an international agreement adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 1972. It is today one of the largest Agreements with more than 160 countries that have ratified the Convention.
Its primary mission is to define and conserve the world's heritage, by drawing up a list of sites whose outstanding values should be preserved for all humanity and to ensure their protection through a closer co-operation among nations.
Earth observation from space has given a new perspective of our planet and has become an essential technique for the understanding and monitoring of changes at various scales from local to regional and global. It is now used for the routine monitoring of the oceans, the polar caps, the atmosphere and land surfaces. Numerous applications have been developed, in particular for land management, such as agriculture, forestry, land use and land cover.
Current Earth Observation satellites (such as Meteosat, Landsat, Spot and IRS) are successfully contributing to the monitoring and the evaluation of the state of conservation of natural sites such as natural parks and reserves inscribed in the World Heritage list. These space systems, till recently, were much less considered and used for the monitoring of cultural heritage sites, characterised by a smaller size than the natural sites. Their spatial and spectral resolution and diversity were, in general, not appropriate for this type of application.
The situation has changed with the advent of a new generation of satellites providing high to very high spatial resolution (say, 1 metre such as IKONOS) , wider spectral capability including microwave frequencies (radar satellites such as ERS, Radarsat) and the declassification of military satellite data such as CORONA. This allows new detection and monitoring techniques (multi-temporal analysis, fusion of optical and radar imagery, radar interferometry…) to be tested and validated for this new emerging and promising field of applications.