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ID.58113: SARchaeology: exploiting satellite SAR for archaeological prospection and heritage site protection

Solid Earth


Archaeological prospection and the protection of cultural and natural heritage sites are important applications of remote sensing. In the past, they have been underrepresented in the Dragon programme. In our proposed project, we intend to work on archaeological prospection and heritage protection with SAR remote sensing. With the upcoming wider availability of long-wavelength data from various L-band missions and ESA’s BIOMASS P-band mission, sub-surface target detection is becoming possible. This opens new perspectives for the use of SAR for the support of archaeological prospection, and this will be the main research focus of this project. Although the spatial resolution of these long-wavelength sensors will be too low for many archaeological applications, we expect the data to be useful for landscape archaeological analyses, especially with respect to hidden paleo-channels and hidden linear structures. This research will focus on arid areas in China, e.g. paleo-channels around Lop-Nor, as well as the larger province of Rome, including sub-urban and rural expanses with partly buried archaeological ruins. SAR data to be exploited for archaeological prospection will include ALOS-1 L-band, as well as shorter wavelengths, namely ERS-1/2, ENVISAT, RADARSAT-1/2 and Sentinel-1 C-band, and potentially Iceye and Paz X-band data, in order to test signal penetration capabilities at the different wavelengths and spatial resolutions. The identification of objects of archaeological interest from SAR is also an on-going research hotspot. Based on the team’s previous research on Kurgans (Iron Age burial mounds), we plan to work on the detection of Kurgans in Copernicus Sentinel-1 images. Generally, the resolution of Sentinel-1 is too low for the clear identification of Kurgans. However, using multi-temporal despeckling, Kurgans can become distinguishable in Sentinel-1. Even more so, with the correct combination of seasonal images, e.g. only summer images, and polarization.Subsidence can damage cultural heritage sites and various surface motion related disasters, e.g. landslides, can endanger natural and cultural heritage sites. Measuring surface motion with SAR is therefore an important part of heritage protection. In this regard, we focus our research on the long-term surface motion monitoring. Due to changes in the environment, as well as changes in the availability of sensors, a true long-term surveillance, covering decades, is a challenging task. The research in this project will therefore focus on the long-term surveillance, mainly with Sentinel-1. Looting is another on-going problem in archaeology and in the protection of our heritage. Remote sensing can play an important role in the detection of looting and we intend to further investigate looting detection with SAR data. In the proposed project, we present a new research direction for Dragon, with a new team, while keeping a degree of continuity with previous Dragon programs as well. The European partners will support the project with in-kind contribution of their work time and in-house computing resources. The funding from China will be coming from internal funding of LIESMARS and Wuhan University. The exchange of the Chinese students will be supported by the Chinese Scholarship Council.


PI Europe
Dr. Francesca Cigna, National Research Council - Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (CNR-ISAC), ITALY
Co-PIs Europe
Dr. Deodato Tapete, Italian Space Agency (ASI), ITALY
PI China
Prof. Timo Balz, Wuhan University, CHINA
Co-PIs China
Prof. Bihong Fu, Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China