Deformation phenomena affecting Rome’s historical city centre (Source: IREA-CNR, Italy)
Cultural heritage, a shared source of remembrance, understanding, identity, dialogue, and creativity, represents an irreplaceable source of life and inspiration while contributing to social cohesion and economic growth.
The importance of cultural heritage preservation is globally recognised. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has a World Heritage mission aimed at management and preservation of cultural heritage sites – to date, 1,073 sites are registered and monitored by UNESCO.
The November 2014 European Council conclusions on participatory governance of cultural heritage called on the European Commission to declare 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage (EYCH), and we are finally here. This milestone represents a fundamental recognition of how European heritage shaped European society as we know it today.
Nowadays, tangible and natural cultural heritage is in danger, because of natural hazards and Climate Change, as well as man-made threats and criminal activities. It is our collective responsibility to act.
The data and information offered by the Copernicus programme can contribute to tangible and natural cultural heritage preservation and management. Earth Observation (EO) data is becoming increasingly instrumental, with numerous projects and applications aimed at providing products tailored to the needs of cultural heritage.
Examples of useful EO-based products include:
- Land-use change maps
- Natural subsidence, ground motion detection
- Risk assessment maps
- Archaeological sites monitoring and identification (e.g. buried sites)
- Monitoring of the destruction or looting of sites
- Urban sprawl monitoring
- Climate Change indicators
- Air pollution monitoring
- Coastline monitoring (erosion)
Tools integrating EO data into daily cultural heritage-related activities are already in place – a good example of them is the online training environment “SpaceToPlace – EO to Empower UNESCO Site Managers” from Heidelberg University, winner of the 2016 Copernicus Masters University Challenge. Its objective is to provide UNESCO site managers and planning authorities with the right tools and expertise to incorporate Copernicus Sentinel data into their daily work processes and operational routines. The online training environment features easy-to-use, web-based, remote-sensing software alongside dedicated learning modules. Practical hands-on exercises develop the necessary knowledge and skills while also showcasing sample workflows for monitoring ongoing environmental, economic and social processes.
“ Information from the Copernicus Programme, especially Sentinel data, is a core component of our newly available Space2Place e-learning module. It is the first English module within our e-learning platform geospektiv and is linked to our free online remote sensing application BLIF. As UNESCO Chair on World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve Observation and Education, it is one of our main objectives to communicate the opportunities and benefits of Earth Observation to specific stakeholders and to the civil society in general. Space2Place make it is possible to assess land cover changes, to evaluate the impact of Climate Change and to improve spatial planning. All in all, Copernicus data and information represent a fundamental cornerstone to safeguard our global cultural and natural heritage. ”
Prof. Alexander Siegmund and Prof. Tobias Matusch, Heidelberg University
While Space2Place targets UNESCO users, other initiatives are focusing on EU national and regional stakeholders. The NEREUS Earth Observation Working Group brings a regional perspective on EO imagery and geo-information data for cultural heritage and landscapes. In the year 2000, the European Landscape Convention (Florence Convention) underlined the necessity “to integrate landscape into its regional and town planning policies and in its cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies”. Regions need to ensure compliance and implementation of numerous EU-directives and legislations regarding natural and built environments, and they are usually also the responsible authorities for Spatial Data Infrastructures and Services/Operation of Environmental Agencies. At the regional level the contribution of EO services and products such as those from Copernicus could be useful for:
- Management of cultural heritage during emergencies, particularly in the case of geo-hazards
- Mapping, monitoring and management of cultural heritage as a daily routine.
NEREUS’ concrete actions include a position paper (currently in preparation) on Space for Cultural Heritage and related use cases from EU Regions.
“ The use of EO applications in the domain of cultural heritage has increased over the last few decades and recent studies have demonstrated the usefulness of both passive or active sensors. These data can be used for various purposes such as the detection of crop and soil marks used as a proxy for the identification of architectural buried remains, studying and mapping land use changes in cultural and archaeological landscapes, monitoring of natural and anthropogenic hazards that might threaten archaeological sites and monuments and so forth. ”
Prof. Branka Cuca, Co-chair of the NEREUS Earth Observation Working Group.
The key challenge of the use of EO data for cultural heritage monitoring is the development of tailored products, more than the necessity of new types of space-based observations, therefore research is necessary in this case. As of today, several H2020 projects are looking in this direction.
The HERACLES (HEritage Resilience Against CLimate Events on-Site) project aims at designing, validating and promoting responsive systems/solutions for the effective resilience of cultural heritage sites against the effects of Climate Change. This will be operationally pursued with the development of a system exploiting an ICT platform able to collect and integrate multisource information. Within this framework, Copernicus could enable continuous monitoring of high-risk cultural heritage sites. Specific products such as change detection analysis (optical imagery) or deformation analysis (SAR imagery) have proven to be extremely beneficial for preventive action in these sites.
The PROTection of European Cultural HEritage from GeO-hazards (PROTHEGO) project aims to make an innovative contribution towards the analysis of geo-hazards across European cultural heritage areas. Cultural heritage sites are impacted and threatened by several internal and external factors, with both rapid and slow onset, including natural hazards, such as landslides, sinkholes, settlement, subsidence, earthquakes or extreme meteorological events. PROTHEGO applies novel space technology based on radar interferometry (InSAR) to monitor monuments and sites in Europe which are potentially at-risk due to geo-hazards. Remotely sensed information on ground stability and motion are combined with geo-hazard datasets available to identify the most endangered sites across Europe.
“ Space-based measurement techniques applied to cultural heritage conservation and mitigation policies are the most advanced, sustainable, low impact techniques for environmental risk reduction for cultural heritage sites. In any case, there is a strong need for dedicated and simple tools for downstream service providers and end-users. ”
Dr Daniele Spizzichino, Institute for Environmental Research and Protection (ISPRA), Italy
Lastly, the HERCULES (Sustainable Futures for Europe’s Heritage in Cultural Landscapes) project focuses on the use of Copernicus data to support sustainable and cost-effective landscape monitoring. The objective is to empower public and private actors to protect and sustainably manage cultural landscapes at a local, national and pan-European level. Copernicus is particularly useful thanks to its high-resolution (Sentinel-2) and Medium-Resolution (Sentinel-3) multi-spectral optical imagery.
Last year. the European Commission’s DG GROW organised the “Copernicus for Cultural Heritage” workshop in Brussels. The objective of the workshop was to gather Intermediate and end users’ needs in the cultural heritage domain, while providing an overview of the current Copernicus offer. The key points discussed at the event can be summarised as follows:
- Going from response to prevention is key: preventive actions should be privileged with respect to reactive ones, e.g.: high frequency of observations (constant monitoring) and high and very-high resolution imagery;
- There is a need for user-ready products (intermediate actors between the data providers and the end-users, e.g. site managers);
- Awareness raising activities must be developed with respect to Copernicus products already available. The cultural heritage community needs to gain knowledge about the Copernicus offering;
- Cultural heritage is an integral part of sustainable development (e.g. urban planning) –interdisciplinary approaches should be developed;
- Multi-source data integration is essential to produce value-adding products. There should be a stronger integration between space-based and in situ observations.
Copernicus was not designed to specifically serve the cultural heritage community, nevertheless Copernicus data can support cultural heritage monitoring, preservation, and management. Efforts should be directed towards maximising the benefits that Copernicus can bring to cultural heritage, and to society and to the wider EU economy.