File:Earth Lights from Space.jpg

From Global Warming Art


Image of the Earth shown in daylight

This map shows a composite image of lights on Earth as determined by the United States Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program's Operational Linescan System (DMSP/OLS). This system, originally developed to aid aircraft by tracking cloud cover at night, is able to detect very faint visible and near infrared light coming from the Earth's surface. By identifying persistent fixed sources, and removing transient effects such as cloud cover, researchers were able to produce a map of lights associated with urban surface activity (Elvidge et al. 1997 and references therein).

To create the image above, the map of ground lighting was superimposed on a night-like rendering of Earth's surface features. In this composition both the landforms and lights appear brighter than would be visible to an unaided observer in space.

Images such as these are often used to assess the range and scale of human activity on Earth (Elvidge et al. 1997, Elvidge et al. 2001, Doll et al. 2000). The presence of nighttime lights correlate most strongly with urbanization, economic activity, and industrialization. They also correlate, though less so, with population density. The extensive development in Europe and North America is clearly evident on these images and contrasts markedly with Africa, despite the fact that Africa has a larger total population than either Europe or North America. Since this image tracks economic activity, it also provide a visual mechanism for identifying those regions that are contributing most significantly to the greenhouse gas emissions believed to be responsible for global warming (Doll et al. 2000).


This image was created Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center based on data provided by Marc Imhoff of NASA and Christopher Elvidge of NOAA.

This file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that "NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted". (NASA copyright policy page).


  • Elvidge, C.D., K.E. Baugh, E.A. Kihn, H.W. Kroehl, and E.R. Davis (1997). "Mapping city lights with nighttime data from the DMSP Operational Linescan System". Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 63: 727-734. 
  • Elvidge, C.D., V.H. Hobson, I.L. Nelson, J.M. Safran, B.T. Tuttle, J.B. Dietz, and K.E. Baugh (2001). Global observation of urban areas based on nocturnal lighting. Bouder, Colorado: NOAA. 
  • Doll, C.N.H., J.P. Muller, and C.D. Elvidge (2000). "Night-time imagery as a tool for global mapping of socioeconomic parameters and greenhouse gas emissions". AMBIO 29: 157-162. 

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