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Radiance Calibrated Nighttime Lights Tutorial

Satellite imagery of nighttime lights provides a unique perspective on the spread of electric lighting across the globe. While these data are often used to track development, the nighttime lights available before 2012 - those using DMSP-OLS sensors - are typically bounded in the level of brightness they can record. This means that city centers and other areas with extensive lighting appear saturated in the standard DMSP-OLS data and display no variation within these saturation bounds. To counter this problem, a smaller subset of recorded data were collected by adjusting the settings of these sensors to enable more sensitive detection of bright lights at the cost of detecting low light areas. For those studying urban development and hoping to use nighttime light variation within city boundaries, this Radiance Calibrated Nighttime Lights dataset can be invaluable, providing images and light intensity values from 1996 through 2010 that can be used to evaluate the development of lighting within population centers.
This Geo4Dev tutorial provides a complete introduction to these radiance calibrated nighttime lights data for users interested in applying them to any research or policy questions. Users will learn to collect the data from Google Earth Engine, filter for areas of interest, extract light intensity statistics, and visualize the lighting over populated areas for further analysis. As an example of these data in use, the tutorial also replicates selected results from “Subways and Urban Growth: Evidence from Earth” (2018) by Marco Gonzalez-Navarro and Matthew Turner. The authors consider the effect of subway systems on city centralization, using nighttime lights and the light gradient radiating outward from the center as measures of centralization. For any individuals interested in the development of cities, this tutorial will provide a straightforward introduction to using radiance calibrated nighttime lights to answer a wide-ranging set of research questions.

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Additional Info

Field Value
Author(s) Natalie Ayers
Last Updated April 6, 2022, 23:59 (UTC)
Created September 10, 2021, 19:01 (UTC)
Stable Link
Date 2021-09-10
Content Type Training Materials
Primary Category Land Use & Land Cover
Sub Category LULC
Country Name Global, Turkey
Location-Region/City Istanbul
Associated Datasets Global Radiance Calibrated Nighttime Lights (
Publishing Organization Center for Effective Global Action