The conservation of World Heritage is critical to the cultural and social sustainability of regions and nations. Risk monitoring and preventive diagnosis of threats to heritage sites in any given ecosystem are a complex and challenging task. Taking advantage of the performance of Earth Observation technologies, we measured the impacts of hitherto imperceptible and poorly understood factors of groundwater and temperature variations on the monuments in the Angkor World Heritage site (400 km2). We developed a two-scale synthetic aperture radar interferometry (InSAR) approach. We describe spatial-temporal displacements (at millimeter-level accuracy), as measured by high-resolution TerraSAR/TanDEM-X satellite images, to provide a new solution to resolve the current controversy surrounding the potential structural collapse of monuments in Angkor. Multidisciplinary analysis in conjunction with a deterioration kinetics model offers new insights into the causes that trigger the potential decline of Angkor monuments. Our results show that pumping groundwater for residential and touristic establishments did not threaten the sustainability of monuments during 2011 to 2013; however, seasonal variations of the groundwater table and the thermodynamics of stone materials are factors that could trigger and/or aggravate the deterioration of monuments. These factors amplify known impacts of chemical weathering and biological alteration of temple materials. The InSAR solution reported in this study could have implications for monitoring and sustainable conservation of monuments in World Heritage sites elsewhere.
Keywords: Angkor site; Earth observation; Monument collapse; Multidisciplinary analysis; Radar Interfereometry; World heritage; ecosystem; sustainability.