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1. Space for Heritage

Presently there are 1000 different sites on UNESCO’s
World Heritage lists (August 2012). Some are very
large and some are located in remote areas. It has
become difficult to monitor and to assess the ‘state of
conservation’ for all these sites. That is why
UNESCO, jointly with the European Space Agency
(ESA), decided to launch the ESA-UNESCO ‘Open
Initiative on the use of space technologies to support
World Heritage: From Space to Place’. This is a call
open to space agencies to assist in protecting our
common heritage.

Today more than 50 space partners, the largest space
network worldwide, formed by space agencies, space
research institutions and the space private sector are
assisting UNESCO in bringing the benefit of space
technologies to developing Member States. These
space partners facilitate access to space technologies to
assist UNESCO in the monitoring, documenting and
preservation of our common heritage. Earth
observation from space is alerting authorities about
threats that could place their heritage sites in danger.

The Open Initiative also assists developing countries
in acquiring capacity to use space technologies for the
management and conservation of their heritage. One
major challenge is to provide to the local heritage
authorities ready-to-use and easy-to-understand results
derived from space technologies: bringing space closer
to the user. These results are then used by UNESCO
in exhibitions and educational activities.

Expanding knowledge using Space Technology


Background and description

Orbiting in space, satellites can cover vast and remote areas of the Earth over
many years spanning national boundaries and detecting global patterns of
environmental change not easily observed from the ground. Data from
satellites, collected digitally, can be processed with specialized computer
software yielding accurate, timely and useful information products which
inform decision- and policy-making.

At global and regional scales, thanks to space technology, knowledge of the
various components of the Earth system including its atmosphere, land,
oceans and ice is improving.

Today, a large fleet of Earth observation satellites, with complementary
capabilities, orbits the Earth. This global fleet is coordinated by the
Committee for Earth Observing Satellites (CEOS). UNESCO, its
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC) and
the Global Ocean Observing System (IOC-GOOS) are all members of

While UNESCO does not launch satellites, it fosters the use of space
technologies to implement its programmes and endeavours to bring the
benefits of space technologies to its Member States.

UNESCO has been involved in space activities for more than two decades.
From 1984, UNESCO and the International Union of Geological Sciences
(IUGS) launched the Geo-logical Applications of Remote Sensing (GARS)
initiative. In 2001, UNESCO with the European Space Agency (ESA)
launched the ‘Open Initiative’ to bring together space agencies to use space
technologies to monitor UNESCO World Heritage sites. Space technology,
in UNESCO activities, is also used in fields such as natural resource management
including freshwater management and the development of communications.

In particular, IOC-GOOS of UNESCO makes extensive use of data collected using
space technologies in the study of the oceans and in monitoring marine hazards.

UNESCO has successfully integrated space technology in, among other:
 environmental monitoring of ocean climate variables: sea surface
temperature, sea height, sea winds, ocean colour and sea ice;
 facilitating coastal zone and freshwater resource management;
 biodiversity conservation;
 identifying risks from natural hazards and preparing for natural disasters;
 monitoring of natural and cultural World Heritage sites.

2. Earth Observation, Climate Change and Resource
Climate change has been labelled as the “defining challenge
of our time”. Its impacts are already showing and will
intensify over time if left unaddressed. Understanding and
forecasting climate change requires a long-term, multivariate
oceans and terrestrial observing system. The use of satellites
to monitor processes and trends at the global scale is essential
in the context of climate change. The ocean is an integral
part of the global climate sys-tem. The ocean has absorbed 50%
of the excess heat of global warming, controls weather
systems, and transports heat around the world. The UN
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has emphasized
the role the oceans play in controlling climate.

Global Ocean Observing Systems (GOOS)

The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), sponsored by
the IOC-UNESCO and created in 1991, monitors physical,
chemical and biological ocean and coastal variables.
The (GOOS) consists of an open ocean module and a coastal
module. Information is derived using space technology,
moored instruments, free floating buoys and profilers. It uses
remote sensing to measure climate variables as defined by the
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:
sea surface temperature and height, sea winds, ocean colour,
and sea ice, and in the near future, sea surface salinity.

Subsurface ocean data collected by in-situ instruments (ie:
Argo floats, surface drifters, etc.) is transmitted to satellites
and trans-formed into information products delivering
societal benefits, for example forecasts of hurricane intensity
and location. Measurements of sea surface temperature in
one region of the globe are vital in providing climate services
such as monthly predictions of regional patterns of drought
and flooding in another part of the globe. Measuring the
colour of the ocean indicates the presence of chlorophyll and
plankton blooms.

Global climate change studies depend upon all these
measurements made available through GOOS.

Global Terrestrial Observing Systems (GTOS)
Earth Observation satellites can track long-term changes on
the surface of the earth such as deforestation, changing land
use, coastline erosion or the growth of urban settlements.
UNESCO is one of the five sponsors of GTOS, alongside
FAO, ICSU, UNEP and WMO. GTOS, founded in 1996,
aims to improve the quality and coverage of terrestrial data
including standardizing the measurements of terrestrial

climate variables based on the request of the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change, to integrate it into a
worldwide database and to facilitate its access by scientists,
policy makers and the public. It is a programme for
observations, modelling, and analysis of terrestrial ecosystems
to monitor environmental change and to support sustainable
development. The GOOS relies on GTOS to provide landbased
input to the coastal ocean (fluxes of water, sediments,
nutrients, chemical contaminants and human pathogens
from land to estuarine and marine systems).
UNESCO is a partner in the Group on Earth Observations
(GEO), a voluntary partnership of governments and
international organizations to co-ordinate information
gathered from different sources including from space. Its
members include over 80 governments and international
organizations. Since 2005, the GEO has been building a
Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS),
which it aims to complete by 2015. GEOSS will promote
common technical standards and connect a diverse array of
systems to identify gaps in monitoring the global
environment. GEOSS supports policymakers, resource
managers, researchers and decision-makers. UNESCO
contributes to the GEOSS through the Global Climate
Observing System (GCOS) and the Global Terrestrial
Observing System (GTOS) and leads the Global Ocean
Observing System (GOOS).

3. Earth Observation for Geohazard Mitigation

Certain geological features are only visible from space. For
example, today’s advanced radar technology can detect slow
shifts of the Earth’s crust. Likewise, after certain natural
disasters take place, remote sensed images provide the most
rapid and accurate information about sites which may not be
accessible over land. The Geological Applications of Remote
Sensing (GARS) programme strives to reduce the natural
hazard risk affecting local communities and to manage
groundwater resources. It fosters the coordination of
lithological mapping, knowledge transfer, database
management, landslide and volcanic hazard mapping.

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