Lights of the World

A recently released satellite picture from NOAA illustrates the changes in nighttime lights in Europe between 1992 and 2009. Yellow regions show where lights have increased, purple places indicate where lights have decreased, and white areas show no change.

The picture highlights dramatic changes in Eastern Europe, most likely tied to the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1992, as more people moved west and urbanization of the former Soviet states declined.

American Renewable Energy Day is this week, and associated with it is a summit in Aspen bringing together leaders in industry, government, and many other sectors. Data and analysis by NOAA is used widely to understand energy consumption and define areas of the environment ideal for harnessing renewable sources of energy. Each day this week, the NOAA Image of the Day will highlight the application of satellite data to renewable energy.

Lights of the World

To highlight the need for renewable energy, the global demand for energy is illustrated here using data from the U.S. Air Force DMSP satellites. The Operational Linescan System sensor onboard DMSP has a unique capability to detect the visible and near-infrared energy associated with lights at night. NOAA manages the orbit and data acquisition of this satellite and the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, CO analyzes and archives the data. The Nighttime Lights of the World is one such analysis. Shown here are comparisons of how nighttime lights have changed over the planet from 1992 to 2009. White areas indicate no change, yellow indicate an increase in nighttime lights, purple indicate a decrease in nighttime lights over the 17 year period.

There has been very little net change in overall nighttime lights in the U.S. during this period, though population and the GDP (gross domestic product) have risen. Nighttime lights are correlated with GDP of developing nations, whereas countries with established electrical grids show more stable nighttime lights. The more efficient use of lighting in the U.S. and other developed nations in recent years may be limiting the amount of light reaching space, even as their economies and power usage grow. Many suburban areas in the Northeast U.S. and Great Lakes show decreases in lights, associated with the declining population in these regions, whereas the South gained lights in many areas.

Southern Asia continues to show dramatic increases in energy use. India and China are almost completely yellow in this image. Over this time period, China’s light use has more than doubled and GDP quadrupled. Decreases in these regions are seen, for the most part, only in the ocean –associated with offshore drilling and fishing.

A dramatic change can be seen in the energy use of Eastern Europe, particularly the former Soviet nations. The Soviet Union dissolved in December of 1992, and since then there has been massive migration from Eastern to Western Europe. That shift can be seen here, as the base time period of 1992 helps illustrate the before and after population and urbanization of the region.

credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (NOAA Logo)