Satellite Tasking: CHW documents changes in the built environment of cultural landscapes using high resolution satellite imagery. In order to monitor the condition of currently endangered sites, we task satellites to capture images throughout the year, providing a regularly updated stream of information on the physical integrity of cultural heritage sites in the region. We request imagery based on known or reported threats as well as our analysis of potential risks. Each site is examined by comparing recent captures to baseline imagery. For the purposes of this report, baseline imagery is satellite data that predates the 2020 conflict. These images are then compared with new captures from spring 2021 in order to detect and describe change at each heritage site of interest. Subsequent reports will compare newly tasked images with previously tasked images.
Evidence for damage or destruction is passed from individual monitors to the team for group evaluation. If full agreement is reached, the site is flagged as either destroyed, damaged, or threatened. Consultations are held with our partners as the team works toward a strategic response. When CHW and its partners conclude that public scrutiny might blunt further intentional or accidental damage to a site or other sites in the vicinity, we use social media to broadcast the threat and to help focus the attention of relevant organizations, analysts, journalists and authorities. A GIS-powered dashboard on our website provides a summary of our current understanding of damaged and destroyed sites, as well as those that may be at elevated risk due to changes on the landscape. And at regular intervals during the year, we produce summary reports that document in greater detail evidence for impacts on cultural heritage, including findings of damage beyond those reported on social media.
Archival Analysis: CHW recognizes that the cultural heritage of Nagorno-Karabakh and Nakhichevan/Nakhchivan has already suffered multiple waves of destruction in its recent history. We are actively engaged in several forensic research projects to document aspects of past episodes of destruction using declassified and public-domain satellite imagery, and will release these reports on our website as they become available.
The methodology for our archival work entails identifying suitable images in existing repositories (e.g. declassified Cold War-era satellite imagery and aerial photographs) and working to document substantial changes to cultural heritage sites from the late Soviet period to the years following the first Nagorno-Karabakh war.
Our Tools: At the turn of the 21st century, publicly available high-resolution, multispectral satellite imagery provided archaeologists a new ability to remotely monitor damage inflicted on archaeological sites from looting and regional conflicts in places like Syria and Iraq. Since then, expanding commercial and public-domain satellite ventures offer important opportunities to harness evolving technologies of earth observation more directly in service of heritage monitoring. Each satellite platform carries trade-offs that must be weighed, including cost, spatial resolution, and frequency of image capture. For the purposes of monitoring threatened sites in Nagorno-Karabakh, the ability to control when and where a satellite flies over a site is vital in the forensic assessment of site destruction. Unlike the unpredictable and spotty coverage of the South Caucasus available on Google Earth, Planet Lab’s SkySat platform provides us the ability to "task" their satellites to provide their highest resolution (52 cm), multispectral imagery of specific at-risk locations essentially on-demand. The SkySat constellation consists of 21 satellites orbiting the Earth and capturing imagery 5-7 times per day, providing us the data we need to regularly assess site conditions and inform regional stakeholders in a timely manner.
Our baseline data on the condition of heritage in Nagorno-Karabakh prior to the 2020 conflict comes from Maxar satellite platforms. As the project moves forward, we will be developing a significant archive of baseline data for comparison to the most recent image captures.