Google's 3D scans recreate historical sites threatened by climate change

Its 'Heritage on the Edge' collection preserves history in depth.

Google is no stranger to reproducing historical sites online, but it's now pushing technical boundaries to recreate those sites at risk of vanishing due to the ravages of climate change. It's launching a "Heritage on the Edge" collection in Arts & Culture that will include over 50 exhibitions illustrating the effect of an evolving climate on historical landmarks, including five locations recreated in detailed 3D (with 25 models total) using a mix of scans, photogrammetry and drone footage. You can see vivid depictions of the statues at Easter Island's Rapa Nui, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, the trading port of Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania, Bangladesh's Mosque City of Bagerhat and Peru's ancient city of Chan Chan.

There will also be mobile-only augmented reality Pocket Galleries for inside views of two locations, the Nine Dome Mosque in Bangladesh and Gereza Fort in Tanzania.

Google created the models through help from ICOMOS and the archival nonprofit CyArk, and is making a point of publishing the data. "Anyone" can download CyArk's source material to use it for research or other projects, Google said. It's also helping site managers both conserve their historical treasures and present their efforts to the public.

These models won't prevent the locations from succumbing to rising sea levels or fiercer rainfall. Google is no doubt hoping they'll spur attempts to mitigate climate change, though. And if nothing else, these will ensure there's a digital record of what these historical sites looked like before they crumbled away.