Increase in light pollution

By saving cost and energy, the lighting revolution may increase light pollution

Municipalities, enterprises, and households are switching to LED lights in order to save energy. But these savings might be lost if their neighbours install new or brighter lamps. Scientists fear that this "rebound effect" might partially or totally cancel out the savings of individual lighting retrofit projects, and make skies over cities considerably brighter. An international study led by Christopher Kyba from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geoscience lends proof to this hypothesis. According to the paper in Science Advances, the artificially lit surface of Earth at night increased in radiance and extent over the past four years by 2 per cent annually. The scientists used data from the first-ever calibrated satellite radiometer designed especially for nightlights (VIIRS for Visible/Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite). The VIIRS Day-Night Band is mounted on the NOAA satellite Suomi–NPP and has been circling our planet since October 2011. Their time series comprises the years 2012 to 2016.

Globally, the increase in light emission closely corresponds to the increase of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), with the fastest growth occuring in developing countries. “What’s more, we actually see only part of the light increase”, says Christopher Kyba whose research is done both at GFZ and the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries IGB. Comparisons of the VIIRS data with photographs taken from aboard the International Space Station ISS show that the instrument on Suomi-NPP sometimes records a dimming of some cities even though these cities are in fact the same in brightness or even more brightly lit. The reason for this is that sensor can’t “see” light at wavelengths below 500 nanometres (nm), i.e. blue light. When cities replace orange lamps with white LED lights that emit considerable radiation below 500 nm, VIIRS mistakes the change for a decrease. In short: The Earth’s night-time surface brightness and especially the skyglow over cities is increasing, probably even in the cases where the satellite detects less radiation.

There is, however, hope that things will change for the better. Christopher Kyba says: “Other studies and the experience of cities like Tucson, Arizona, show that well designed LED lamps allow a two-third or more decrease of light emission without any noticeable effect for human perception.” Kyba’s earlier work has shown that the light emission per capita in the United States of America is 3 to 5 times higher than that in Germany. Kyba sees this as a sign that prosperity, safety, and security can be achieved with conservative light use. “There is a potential for the solid state lighting revolution to save energy and reduce light pollution,” adds Kyba, “but only if we don’t spend the savings on new light”.

Original study: Kyba, C. C. M., Kuester, T., Sánchez de Miguel, A., Baugh, K., Jechow, A., Hölker, F., Bennie, J., Elvidge, C. D., Gaston, K. J. Guanter, L., 2017. Artificially lit surface of Earth at night increasing in radiance and extent. Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1701528

Related images in high resolution and an animation can be found here:

Image 1: Photograph of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, taken from the International Space Station on December 23, 2010. Residential areas are mainly lit by orange sodium lamps. (Image: NASA’s Earth Observatory/Kyba, GFZ)

Image 2: Photograph of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, taken from the International Space Station on November 27, 2015. Many areas on the outskirts are newly lit compared to 2010, and many neighborhoods have switched from orange sodium lamps to white LED lamps. (Image: NASA’s Earth Observatory/Kyba, GFZ)

Animation of lighting change in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, from 2010-2015, based on photographs taken by astronauts on the International Space Station. Many areas on the outskirts are newly lit compared to 2010, and many neighborhoods have switched from orange sodium lamps to white LED lamps. (Credit: NASA’s Earth Observatory/Kyba, GFZ)

Media contacts:

Christopher Kyba (Physicist, lead author) GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences Email: kyba@gfz-potsdam.de Phone (Germany): +49 331 288 28973 @skyglowberlin (English & German)

Franz Hölker (Ecologist) Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries IGB Email: hoelker@igb-berlin.de Phone (Germany): +49 30 64181 665 (German & English)

Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel (Physicist) University of Exeter Email: a.sanchez-de-miguel@exeter.ac.uk Phone (Spain):+34 619358685 @pmisson (Spanish & English)

Prof Kevin J. Gaston (Founding Director of the Environment and Sustainability Institute) Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter Email: K.J.Gaston@exeter.ac.uk Phone (UK): (+44) (0)7825 904805 @KevinJGaston (English)

Kimberly Baugh (Satellite imagery) Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) University of Colorado Boulder Email: kim.baugh@noaa.gov Phone (USA): +1 303-497-4452 (English)

Christopher Elvidge (Satellite imagery) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Email: chris.elvidge@noaa.gov Phone (USA): +1 303-497-6121 (English)

 

Additional News

[Translate to English:] Lila Flagge wehend über einem Dachgiebel

Interviews on the occasion of the Purple Light Up 2022

Obituary picture of Dr. Kemâl Erbas.

Obituary Dr. Kemâl Erbas

Two profile photos and in between the logo of BMWK and a symbol image for a text document.

Important signal for the expansion of deep geothermal energy

German map with quality-checked data points, shown as columns

A new heat-flow analysis shows higher values for Germany

P. Martinez-Garzon in a forest next to a giant split rock

Dr. Patricia Martinez-Garzon wins ERC Starting Grant for her project QUAKE-HUNTER

Map of Türkiye with the marked epicentre of the earthquake in the northwestern part of the country

Background on today's earthquake in northwest Türkiye

Topography map of the alps.

What is driving the Alps upwards?

Groupp picture ICDP/IODP Kolloquiums

Joint IODP/ICDP-Colloquium at GFZ

Teachers in lecture hall during lecture

"Extreme Events in the Earth System" - 20th "System Earth" Autumn School

Two young researchers stand in front of trees holding their certificates, next to them stands Ludwig Stroink, who awarded the certificates.

“GFZ Friends” honours Theresa Hennig and Lei Wang with the “Friedrich-Robert-Helmert Prize…

Satellite image of a desert area: Colorful spots show different minerals.

German environmental satellite EnMAP: start into regular operation

On the left, a measuring tower in a low overgrown tundra landscape.

More methane from Siberia in summer

[Translate to English:] Profilfoto mit schwarzem Rahmen von Henning Francke

Obituary: Henning Francke

Group photo with projekt responsible

Making geodata interoperable and suited for curiosity driven research: GEO-INQUIRE project…

Schema Energiebereitstellung durch Geothermie

European Geothermal Congress from 17 to 21 October 2022 in Berlin

Gruppenfoto PAM

International Conference on Polar and Alpine Microbiology

Leni Scheck Wenderoth

“AWG Professional Excellence Award” for Magdalena Scheck-Wenderoth

Ausbildung am GFZ

Berufsausbildung und duales Studium am GFZ

Dr. Ute Weckmann during the opening speech of the workshop

Dr. Ute Weckmann takes over the chairmanship of IAGA Division VI

Anke Neumann aon a boat during a research trip

Dr Anke Neumann is a Senior Humboldt Research Fellow

Earth Model

New DFG priority programme on deep Earth evolution over geologic time

Logo of the Helmholtz Innovation Labs: written words only

Successful interim evaluation of the two Helmholtz Innovation Labs at the GFZ

Schematic of plunging Earth plates under the ocean with water transport and the Al molecules involved: This is how water migrates deeper into the Earth than previously assumed.

Water is seeping deeper into Earth than expected

From the air, a view of Istanbul, a city of millions, and the surrounding sea.

"Earthquakes don’t occur out of nowhere"

Group photo with all the people who attended the farewell

Honouring Prof. Onno Oncken with a scientific colloquium

DEUQUA Logo mit Mammut und Friedenstaube

DEUQUA 2022 Tagung am GFZ

PAW Logo

Postdoc Appreciation Week Germany

Building, photo taken in winter, Isaac Newton Institute

Simons Scholarship for Dr Monika Korte

Die Verteilung der seismischen Stationen auf einer Karte der Region.

How deeply does Eifel volcanism sleep?

Geomagnetic Field. Space with stars, Earth with animation around

GFZ film among the finalists of the Earth Futures Festival 2022

back to top of main content