World Heritage in danger: Big data and remote sensing can help protect sites in conflict zones

Noam Levin*, Saleem Ali, David Crandall, Salit Kark

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Scopus citations


World Heritage sites provide a key mechanism for protecting areas of universal importance. However, fifty-four UNESCO sites are currently listed as “In Danger”, with 40% of these located in the Middle East. Since 2010 alone, thirty new sites were identified as under risk globally. We combined big-data and remote sensing to examine whether they can effectively be used to identify danger to World Heritage in near real-time. We found that armed-conflicts substantially threaten both natural- and cultural-heritage listed sites. Other major risks include poor management and development (globally), poaching (Africa mostly) and deforestation (tropics), yet conflict is the most prominent threat. We show that news-mining of big-data on conflicts and remote sensing of nights-lights enabled us to identify conflict afflicted areas in near real-time. These findings provide a crucial avenue for developing a global transparent early-warning system before irreversible damage to world heritage takes place.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)97-104
Number of pages8
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier Ltd


  • Arab countries
  • Armed conflicts
  • Big data
  • Flickr
  • Middle East
  • Night lights
  • Remote sensing
  • World Heritage Sites


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