Google's New Tool Shows the Impact of Climate Change on World Heritage Sites

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By Condé Nast Traveller Newsletter, January 29, 2020

Google has launched a new tool that allows anyone with an internet connection to virtually monitor climate change at five of the world's most precious cultural sites.

The project, called "Heritage on the Edge," uses 3D mapping and other photo tools to capture images of World Heritage Sites that can be used for conservation support and raising awareness with tourists and the general public. Among the five heritage sites that were mapped are Rapa Nui (Easter Island); Kilwa Kisiwani on Tanzania's Swahili Coast; the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, Scotland; Mosque City of Bagerhat in Bangladesh; and the ancient city of Chan Chan in Peru. All five have been classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The goal of the effort, Google says, is to "shine a light on the diverse impacts of climate change on cultural monuments and sites."

The Heritage on the Edge webpage has 50 online exhibits, including 3D models, street view tours, and interviews with local professionals, along with quick guides to how climate change is endangering each monument and how this effects the local community. Unsurprisingly, each site's mapping found significant damage from climate change under way. Clicking through each monument's individual images provides an up-close illustration to how Rapa Nui's ancient moai statues are at risk of being toppled by rising sea levels, how the ruins of the city of Chan Chan are being worn away by storms and droughts, or how continuous rains may lead to the collapse of Edinburgh Castle.

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