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U.S. cities emit more light than German ones

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Posted December 30, 2014

American cities shine brighter at night than German cities of the same size. This and other fascinating facts about city lighting are revealed by the new source of data: Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite Day-Night Band which was launched only two years ago and makes the pictures of our planet at a resolution of about 750 meters.

Berlin at night, seen from the ISS (Foto: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Centre)

Berlin at night, seen from the ISS (Foto: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Centre)

“By examining and contrasting cities that have anomalously large and small amounts of uplight, more effective strategies for minimizing waste light could be developed,” reported the authors of the a study published in the Remote Sensing.

“Night light data have been used in the past to study economic variables, socio-economic properties, population and population density, built area, power consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, gas flaring, atmospheric chemistry, skyglow (light pollution), the epidemiology of illness related to light exposure, among other analyses,” the scholars claim.

However, new data sources which appeared recently can assist researchers to produce even better studies. High resolution pictures are now taken not only by the new device attached to Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, but also by astronauts using NightPod, a tracking which assists cameras in taking improved photographs of the Earth, especially at night (in low light conditions). Christopher C. M. Kyba at the Free University of Berlin and his colleagues employed new datasets to investigate how different cities are lighted across the world.

“The case studies presented here show that there are large differences in current patterns of light use, even between countries with highly-developed economies. American cities emit far more light than German cities of equivalent size, and the brightest areas of Central European capitals are fainter than those in the West,” the scientists report.

They discovered that a typical U.S. city with 100,000 inhabitants is lighted 5 times brighter than a typical German city with the same population. Interestingly, differences between East and West Germany were observed.

“The former East is observed to emit more light per capita than the former West. Compared to the trend for all of Germany, 780 of 1,008 former eastern communities (77 %) are above the trend line, while in the former West, only 1,390 of 3,484 (40 %) are above the trend,” they say. Moreover, differences within a single city, Berlin, still remain.

Article: Christopher Kyba, Stefanie Garz, Helga Kuechly, Alejandro de Miguel, Jaime Zamorano, Jürgen Fischer, Franz Hölker, 2014, High-Resolution Imagery of Earth at Night: New Sources, Opportunities and Challenges, Remote Sensing,; 7 (1): 1, source link.

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