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GIM to provide Earth Observation services to UNESCO for management of World Heritage sites.

GIM recently delivered the Calakmul 4DGIS “Information Management System” for the conservation authorities of the Biosphere Reserve and Archaeological Urban Centre of Calakmul (Mexico). This online system allows Mexican managers of Natural and Cultural Heritage to store, share, visualise and create interaction between their data, in order to coordinate various actions of conservation, management, planning, monitoring and research undertaken in the area.

To achieve a good management one needs excellent documentation. This means: data collection, analysis and evaluation. Then the administrators can add a timeline for effective conservation measures. Until now World Heritage managers didn’t have the adequate tools to perform the tasks in an efficient way. Because with management many departments and people are involved, an online application is the ideal way. It provides everyone the possibility to work from his workplace.

The “Information Management System” is based on an online tool developed on the basis of open source elements and according to open standards. It enables the integration of 2D GIS layers and 3D objects, large and small scales cartography layers and the time dimension. It also includes a set of open source tools to create data, but also innovative methods and data models to manage archaeological and ecological data containing time attributes.

The name “Calakmul” refers to an ecological reserve including an ancient Maya city. The study zone lies in the South East of the Campeche State, in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula. The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve was created in 1989. It covers an area of almost 7.300 square kilometres and constitutes one of the largest protected forests of the tropical zones. This biodiversity hotspot shelters rare species of flora and fauna. It also includes many archaeological sites, Calakmul being the most important one. In this site there are 6.252 buildings to be found, from temples, palaces, homes and a ball court. This pre-Colombian city has been registered on the World Heritage List (cultural part) in 2002.
That is why Calakmul is natural and cultural heritage!

This offers opportunities to develop tools for both natural and cultural heritage.

Multidisciplinary approach

The project was carried out with a series of scientists, each with their own specialty.
• Scientists from the Department of Geography of the Ghent University did research on temporal and spatial representation of archaeological data.
• Scientists from the Centre Européen d’Archéométrie of the University of Liège were responsible for data collection and construction of the archaeological database.
• Scientists from the engineering faculty of the Catholic University of Leuven (VISICS team) further developed the Arc3D web service allowing to create three-dimensional models based on sequences of standard digital photos.
GIM was in charge of the project coordination and was responsible for developing the “Information Management System” Calakmul 4DGIS, the analysis of satellite imagery and production of maps for the nature reserve. Our experts ensured interaction with local users and ‘capacity building’ (education and training).

This Consortium worked in close collaboration with UNESCO (Dr. Mario Hernandez) but also with the Mexican partners INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History – responsible for Mexican Cultural Heritage management) and CONANP (National Commission of Protected Natural Areas – in charge of the management of the Mexican Natural Heritage). Finally, the Consortium was also supported by the University of Campeche.


Calakmul 4D GIS is built on the GIM WebGIS technology. GIM WebGIS provides an open and standard product for consultancy-GIS in an intranet or Internet environment.

It is a solution for publishing a variety of geographic themes for everyone, expert GIS users and non-specialist GIS users.
Calakmul 4DGIS has a range of functions.

Administrators can:
• Produce maps and export them
• Register, visualize, analyse and plan follow up actions for realized and planned interventions
• Identify and analyze threats.

The application was designed to be able to switch to other World Heritage sites with limited adaptation. Follow up projects carried out by GIM such as Silk Road CHRIS (project on the Asian Silk Road) and Heritech (Croatia project) will also be built on GIM WebGIS

In addition to the development of Calakmul 4DGIS, GIM also processed EO data provided by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) and by Spot Image via the Planet Action programme. The objective of this task was twofold. First, to process a time series of satellite imagery in order to analyse the evolution of the Land Use Land Cover over the entire Biosphere Reserve. Secondly, to investigate the potential of remote sensing to document Maya ruins and to detect evidences of the presence of archaeological remains in a tropical forest environment. Formosat-2 and SPOT data were used to elaborate LULC maps and to perform a change detection analysis. Formosat-2 recent data set was also used to test the effectiveness of Object-Based Image Analysis method in extracting relevant information for archaeological research. Despite the complexity of the tropical environment, this work was concluded by promising results.

GIM and World heritage

Flexible technology

As in other application areas, GIM has adopted here a flexible approach based on the use of Open Source software components and Open Standards. This is of particular importance in this context, as what makes the concept of World Heritage exceptional, is its universal application. Interoperability, software licenses, costs are thus critical issues. However, the available generic system has also to be adapted to the local situation. Our flexible approach combined with our unique expertise in this field allows us to achieve a perfect matching with the user requirements and to propose a tailored tool.

Information Management System

This web-based system includes a set of tools to be used by site managers to generate or convert data. Once the quality of the data has been checked, it can be uploaded to the system and the corresponding record can be added and documented (metadata) in the catalogue. The latter will allow to search and query the database but also to share the data. Selected information can then be published (display and export) through a web map viewer. This thin client application enables the different users to interact with different types of data.

It allows for:
• Different scales integration;
• 2D and 3D data integration;
• Temporal dimension integration.
This unique combination offered by GIM focuses on the need of site managers and provides diverse functions as:
• Querying, visualizing, accessing all kind of information from a single entry point;
• Supporting decision making processes and coordination of actions;
• Disseminating information and raising awareness.

Capacity building

To ensure the sustainability of such type of information system, GIM, in collaboration with its partners provides training and support to users of the system. In the World Heritage management context, it is indeed essential to transfer the technology but also to give necessary trainings in order to allow the users to become self-sufficient. Users learn how to use the tools and maintain and update the Information Management System.

The Calakmul Information System has been funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO) in the framework of a collaboration agreement with UNESCO.

About GIM

GIM is an internationally operating EO and GIS services company based in Heverlee near Leuven in Belgium. The company provides consultancy, software application development services and products in the geo-spatial domain. GIM specializes in remote sensing services and GIS applications as well as value adding data services and geo-spatial web applications.

Since start of activities in 1995, GIM has been able to establish a broad international customer base and successfully participated in more than 500 local, national, and European projects.

GIMs customers are to be found in private industry sectors, public organisations and research institutes. GIM is dedicated to provide a wide range of value added services for remotely sensed data and GIS applications in segments such as: defence, disaster management, humanitarian aid, nature resources and environment.

The GIM team has expertise in managing and executing national and international projects. At present, GIM is employing a staff of 30 experts and consultants graduated in earth sciences, engineering and informatics.

GIM uses cutting edge GIS and image processing software and provides consultancy, processing and development capabilities for software components from major G IS and remote sensing software vendors.

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