Date of Award

Spring 4-29-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Earth and Environmental Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Wenge Ni-Meister

Second Advisor

Douglas Williamson



World Heritage sites provide a glimpse into the stories and civilizations of the past. There are currently 1007 unique World Heritage properties with 779 being classified as cultural sites, 197 as natural sites, and 31 falling into the categories of both cultural and natural sites (UNESCO & World Heritage Centre, 1992-2015). However, of these 1007 World Heritage sites, at least 46 are categorized as in danger and this number continues to grow. These unique and irreplaceable sites are exceptional because of their universality. Consequently, since World Heritage sites belong to all the people of the world and provide inspiration and admiration to all who visit them, it is our responsibility to help preserve these sites.

The key form of preservation involves the individual monitoring of each site over time. While traditional methods are still extremely valuable, more recent advances in the field of geographic and spatial technologies including geographic information systems (GIS), laser scanning, and remote sensing, are becoming more beneficial for the monitoring and overall safeguarding of World Heritage sites. Through the employment and analysis of more accurately detailed spatial data, World Heritage sites can be better managed.

There is a strong urgency to protect these sites. The purpose of this thesis is to describe the importance of taking care of World Heritage sites and to depict a way in which spatial technologies can be used to monitor and in effect preserve World Heritage sites through the utilization of remote sensing imagery. The research conducted in this thesis centers on the Everglades National Park, a World Heritage site that is continually affected by changes in vegetation. Data used include Landsat satellite imagery that dates from 2001-2003, the Everglades' boundaries shapefile, and Google Earth imagery. In order to conduct the in-depth analysis of vegetation change within the selected World Heritage site, three main techniques were performed to study changes found within the imagery. These techniques consist of conducting supervised classification for each image, incorporating a vegetation index known as Normalized Vegetation Index (NDVI), and utilizing the change detection tool available in the Environment for Visualizing Images (ENVI) software.

With the research and analysis conducted throughout this thesis, it has been shown that within the three year time span (2001-2003), there has been an overall increase in both areas of barren soil (5.760%) and areas of vegetation (1.263%) with a decrease in the percentage of areas classified as sparsely vegetated (-6.987%). These results were gathered through the use of the maximum likelihood classification process available in the ENVI software. The results produced by the change detection tool which further analyzed vegetation change correlate with the results produced by the classification method. As well, by utilizing the NDVI method, one is able to locate changes by selecting a specific area and comparing the vegetation index generated for each date.

It has been found that through the utilization of remote sensing technology, it is possible to monitor and observe changes featured within a World Heritage site. Remote sensing is an extraordinary tool that can and should be used by all site managers and organizations whose goal it is to preserve and protect World Heritage sites. Remote sensing can be used to not only observe changes over time, but it can also be used to pinpoint threats within a World Heritage site. World Heritage sites are irreplaceable sources of beauty, culture, and inspiration. It is our responsibility, as citizens of this world, to guard these treasures.

ThesisApprovalForm.pdf (24 kB)
Thesis Approval Form

ThesisTitlePage.pdf (14 kB)
Thesis Title Page



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