Scientists are to record three-dimensional models of world heritage sites so that they can be recreated if they fall victim to climate change, natural disaster, war or terrorism.

The team of six Scottish scientists - from Historic Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art - will team up next month with an American company, CyArk, to shoot laser beams at Mt Rushmore in South Dakota.

They will create a 3D model accurate to within 3mm, digitally preserving the carved faces of former Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln should they need to be repaired.

Funding for the project was rushed through because of concerns over the deterioration of the granite rockface.

CyArk has identified several other "at-risk" sites, including the Acropolis in Athens, threatened by acid rain, and Machu Picchu in Peru, which suffers from excessive tourism. Pollution, over-expansion and deforestation may have permanently damaged Tikal National Park in Guatemala, one of the largest archaeological remains of the pre-Columbian Maya civilisation.

CyArk's aim is to create 3D models of 500 sites around the world in a five-year project.

Work began this year on scanning the underworld of Rome, 170km of winding catacombs dating back two millennia, and the Zapotec capital of Monte Alban, in Mexico.

Other sites proposed for digital mapping include Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Khmer temple complex built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century, Thebes in Egypt and Pompeii, the Roman town buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius.

The Scottish team has already created 3D models of Stirling Castle and Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, Scotland.

Scanning is almost complete on New Lanark's world heritage site, a restored 18th-century cotton mill in southern Scotland. Once work is complete at Mount Rushmore in October, the team will move to Skara Brae, "the heart of Neolithic Orkney", on an island north of Scotland, which is under threat from coastal erosion.