USA-Hanging off the nose of one of the massive granite US presidents at Mount Rushmore is something we normally associate with an Alfred Hitchcock movie. But these are the lengths you must go to if you want to save the world’s most stunning heritage sites. The combination of a hammer and chisel is no longer the best way to preserve the minute detail that has made these monuments so great. An ambitious plan to scan hundreds of the planet’s best cultural spaces with a 3D laser is a plot old Hitch himself would have been proud to put on the big screen.

But this is no movie. A non-profit organisation in the US called CyArk - which stands for Cyber Archive - wants to digitally preserve 500 world heritage sites within the next five years. It will officially reveal its proposal at a press conference today at the Tower of London.

CyArk has already scanned 100 sites around the world, including Mount Rushmore in South Dakota,Tikal in Guatemala and Pompeii in Italy.  Sites are scanned using the latest laser technology, which can plot millions of points of data. CyArk collects all the information and then archives it online, where it is free for the public to access. Web users can gather information on monuments through photos, videos, animations, fly-throughs and virtual tours.

The goal of the project is to keep a digital map of our most culturally important locations before they are ravaged by nature or man. Flooding, acid rain, earthquakes, conflicts and acts of terrorism are all threats to the beautiful buildings around us, CyArk says. It insists we are losing heritage sites faster than they can be preserved physically, meaning digital conservation is the best option.

CyArk 500 is about leaving a digital legacy for future generations after some buildings are long gone, but it is also about empowering local communities connected to these sites. The idea for CyArk was born out of the destruction in 2001 by the Taliban of the two Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan. Carved into a sandstone cliff face in the 6th century, one of the Buddhas was 55m tall. Ben Kacyra, who founded CyArk, was spurred on by this devastation.