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This undated photo released Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015, file photo, on a social media site used by Islamic State militants, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows smoke from the detonation of the 2,000-year-old temple of Baalshamin in Syria's ancient caravan city of Palmyra. Activists say the Islamic State group in has killed three captives on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015 in Syrias ancient city of Palmyra by tying them to Roman-era columns at the site, then blowing the structures up with explosives.Uncredited/The Associated Press

With destruction of archeological sites at a crisis level, a U.S. "space archaeologist" is launching an initiative that will allow citizen scientists – i.e. anyone – to help identify sites around the world and any looting that may be going on there. Sarah Parcak is the winner of this year's TED Prize – which gives her $1-million (U.S.) to fund "a wish to change the world."

Sounding alarm bells over the future of the world's cultural heritage, she announced her plans for the prize money at the TED Conference in Vancouver on Tuesday.

"My wish is for us to discover the millions of unknown archeological sites around the world by building a 21st century army of global explorers," she told reporters ahead of explaining her wish in a TED Talk Tuesday evening.

"The big bold plan is for us to develop a massive online crowdsourced citizen science campaign to allow anyone in the world to engage with using satellite imagery to discover archeological sites and map looting."

Users will sign in, take a simple tutorial, receive a small series of images from a "deck" and a general location description. Each card in the "deck" represents an area of land measuring about 50 by 50 metres. Users then scan the image looking for buildings, pyramids, tombs, temples – and signs of looting. Verified discoveries will be shared with authorities who can work to excavate or protect the sites.

A professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where she founded the Laboratory for Global Observation, Prof. Parcak has used satellite mapping of Egypt, for instance, to identify 17 potential unknown pyramids, 1000 tombs and 3100 settlements. She analyzes infrared imagery that identifies subtle changes, signalling a man-made presence otherwise hidden from view.

When asked whether this was an appropriate pursuit for people who aren't academic specialists, she told reporters it's a laborious endeavour and help is urgently needed.

"There are maybe a couple dozen of us doing looting mapping; we can't keep up. We are losing the battle," said Prof. Parcak, explaining that it took her team six months working very long hours just to mark looting pits in Egypt. "I think the only way to have a chance of stopping it is getting hopefully millions of people around the world looking."

The app, currently in development, will "gamify" the search – allowing participants to earn points for identifying sites.

Prof. Pracak – who herself was inspired by big screen archaeologist Indiana Jones when she was five – says it's key to engage children in this pursuit. "Ultimately if we don't get the world excited about finding things and being part of discovery I just don't think we're going to make any headway in the battle we're facing."

The app is expected to be released this summer or fall – and Prof. Parcak says she hopes it will inspire people to become archeological activists and join her fight as it reaches the tipping point.

"[If] we do nothing and let the looting spiral out of control ... all the sites are going to be gone [in] 20 years, 25 years if the rate continues."