UNESCO-WATCH - Development of an operational remote sensing monitoring system for the UNESCO World Heritage tropical forest sites

Context and objectives

With the increasing amount of new World Heritage sites being inscribed, it has become difficult to monitor all sites in a reliable and operational manner. For instance, only approximately 15% of the 689 World Heritage sites could be examined during the 2008 session of the World Heritage Committee regarding the state of conservation of the sites. The UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee must thus have a methodology to monitor at the long term 100% of the sites in such a way that the World Heritage Committee session could concentrate only on those sites which present particular issues, problems or threat. Similarly, the regular production of thematic maps (forest map, land cover change map…) can improve the local management of the sites.

The overall goal of this project is to develop for UNESCO an operational methodology that, using earth observation from space, can assess the state of conservation for the UNESCO World Heritage  tropical forest sites. This will also support the reporting of countries with respect to the “state of conservation” at their tropical forest sites.

The scientific objective is to establish an overall non site specific methodology and processing chain to detect forest and other land cover changes on regular basis.

Project outcome

  • A semi-automated workflow has been developed to detect changes inside and outside WH sites located in tropical forests. This method was successfully applied on two fully processed sites and on the subsets of the other sites. The main two challenges for a fully automated change detection were orthorectification and cloud detection.
  • Interactive clickable maps have been produced for 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites with the possibility to visualize the evolution of the land cover over three dates. The maps have been designed in partnership with UNESCO and the World Heritage Center. Those interactions helped to select the information that is necessary for efficient decision making by the local management teams and to make the interactive features easily accessible for non specialist in a portable way even without internet connection.