ISEO2014, a follow-up of ISEO2012 convened in Kashgar, Xinjiang, China, was successfully convened in the Issy Kul Lake Biosphere Reserve of Kyrgyztan from 10 to 12 September 2014. The Institute of Physical and Technical Problems and Materials Science of the National Academy of Sciences of Kyrgyz Republic, The Aerospace Information Research Institute (AIR) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the International Society for Digital Earth were the principal hosts of the Symposium. The International Centre on Space Technologies for Natural and Cultural Heritage(HIST) under the Auspices of UNESCO as well as the CAS-TWAS Centre of Excellence on Space Technology for Disaster Mitigation (SDIM), both hosted by CAS/AIR, were co-organizers of the symposium.

The importance of earth observations in the conservation, monitoring and management of natural and cultural heritage drew significant attention of several keynote presentations and follow-up discussions. Prof. Guo Huadong highlighted the importance of earth observation science and technologies in planning of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), a common heritage shared by China and Central Asian countries. He drew attention to the fact that at its 38th session held in Doha, Qatar from 15 to 25 June 2014, the World Heritage Committee inscribed “Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tian-shan Corridor, China, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyztan” on the World Heritage List. The 33 sites (22 in China, 8 in Kazakhstan and 3 in Kyrgyztan, respectively) along the nearly 5000 km of this silk road site provides an unique framework for focusing earth observation contributions to sustainable development initiatives that conserves humanity’s natural and cultural heritage of outstanding universal value.

The silk road heritage of China and Central Asia will in the future certainly include other World Heritage sites. The 38th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Doha, Qatar, also considered a second silk road site – Penjikent-Samarkand-Poykent Corridor of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Committee has referred the site back to the nominating states for further refinements and clarifications; a site referred back to the State(s) Party(ies) is normally expected to be re-submitted for the consideration of the World Heritage Committee within a period of 3 years.

Prof. Natarajan Ishwaran from Sri Lanka, a State Recruited Expert of China working with AIR and HIST emphasized the importance of the silk road as integrator of conservation and development options among the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Members; i.e. China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. He drew attention to the importance of Issy Kul Lake and its surroundings which has served as an important stop-over point for travelers along the silk road. The Issy Kul Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO includes important glaciers, forests and steppe in addition to parts of the lake ecosystem; it is one of the important areas where climate change impacts and consequences on glacier-melts could be studied in-depth.

Prof. Fu Bihong, Director of the Kashgar Research Center of AIR in the Xinjiang Province of China and a Co-Chair of the Organizing Committee of ISEO2014 illustrated the role of earth observation for sustainable development in the natural World Heritage site of Xinjiang Tian-Shan which was included in the World Heritage List by the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee that convened in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2013. Prof. Fu highlighted the ecosystem diversity contained within the 4 components that make up this site: Tomur, Kalajun-Kuerdening, Bayinbukuke and Bogda. The Bogda Lake is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The site has considerable potential for demonstrating climate change consequences for ecosystems and biodiversity using earth observation science and technology. Xinjiang Tian-shan’s nomination and conservation as a World Natural Heritage sites could provide a useful model for developing similar nominations from Tian-shan and other mountain ranges, such as the Altai, from China as well as its Central Asian partner countries.

During a special meeting of country representatives and international scientists held on 11 September 2014, China and the Central Asian countries as well attendees from other countries present such as Australia, Japan and the Russian Federation welcomed the focus on the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) as a focus for collaboration for promoting earth observation science and technology for sustainable development. It was decided to establish an International Scientific Committee for developing projects and initiatives. AIR agreed to host a forum in 2015 to initiate work on the SREB Programme and convene the first session of the International Scientific Committee. Given the fact that the silk road has served as a land-link between Asia and Europe since ancient times, such a scientific forum is likely to attract many more nations in addition to the Members of the SCO

Opening Ceremony

Professor Guo Delivering a speech

Prof. Natarajan Ishwaran Delivering a speech

Prof. Fu Bihong Delivering a speech

Round-table Discussion

Map of the Silk Road

The nominated routes of the Silk Road