Chinese satellites are using remote sensing to collect and process real-time images of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, the magnificent temple of the Khmer Empire. The technology offers particular advantages in instantly observing and analyzing the effects of natural disasters.
“Basically, we have eyes in the sky, and we can see what happens to the ancient temples and their environment immediately,” said Hong Tianhua, deputy director and secretary general of the International Centre on Space Technologies for Natural and Cultural Heritage under the auspices of UNESCO (HIST).
HIST is the first and only institute in the world to use remote-sensing technology to preserve cultural heritage sites under UNESCO.
A memorandum of understanding, signed in 2014 by the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth of China, Chinese Academy of Sciences, HIST and Cambodia’s Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap (APSARA), enables cooperation in the use of Chinese satellite data.
China then started to help APSARA build a ground station to receive and share data. It also helped provide training in the technology to managers and researchers of world heritage sites from 12 developing countries in Asia and Africa, including Cambodia, through international workshops.
Trained staff can compare new data with those collected in the past to identify any abnormal changes, providing a scientific basis for decision making. They can also create 3D visualization of large sites for analysis.
“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 it,” added Hong.