NASA’s “black marble” project – shows the growth of energy at night on Earth

The Blue Marble—Earth as seen by Apollo 17 in 1972

You’ve heard of the “Blue Marble”. The Blue Marble is an image of the Earth made on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft at a distance of about 29,000 kilometers (18,000 miles) from the surface. It is one of the most reproduced images in human history, and a favorite of environmentalists because they claim it depicts the loneliness of the human race in space, spawning slogans such as “there is no planet B”. Ironically, evidence examined after the mission suggests that astronaut Jack Schmitt was the photographer, and he is a well-known climate skeptic.

Now, NASA has a [complementary] image, the “Black Marble” which in my view shows how humans have conquered darkness with energy, and illuminated Earth as seen from space, so that any entity who might be looking, could see the planet is filled with sentience. It is the one human accomplishment that can be seen from far away.


From NASA Goddard:

New Night Lights Maps Open Up Possible Real-Time Applications

NASA scientists are releasing new global maps of Earth at night, providing the clearest yet composite view of the patterns of human settlement across our planet.

Satellite images of Earth at night — often referred to as “night lights” — have been a gee-whiz curiosity for the public and a tool for fundamental research for nearly 25 years. They have provided a broad, beautiful picture, showing how humans have shaped the planet and lit up the darkness. Produced every decade or so, such maps have spawned hundreds of pop-culture uses and dozens of economic, social science and environmental research projects.

NASA scientists have just released the first new global map of Earth at night since 2012. By studying Earth at night, researchers can investigate how cities expand, monitor light intensity to estimate energy use and economic activity, and aid in disaster response.
Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Kathryn Mersmann

But what would happen if night lights imagery could be updated yearly, monthly or even daily? A research team led by Earth scientist Miguel Román of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, plans to find out this year.

In the years since the 2011 launch of the NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite, Román and colleagues have been analyzing night lights data and developing new software and algorithms to make night lights imagery clearer, more accurate and readily available. They are now on the verge of providing daily, high-definition views of Earth at night, and are targeting the release of such data to the science community later this year.

triptych composite of Earth at night, 2016 (l to r: North and South America, Europe and Africa, Asia and Australia)
These three composite images provide full-hemisphere views of Earth at night. The clouds and sun glint — added here for aesthetic effect — are derived from MODIS instrument land surface and cloud cover products. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Since colleagues from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA released a new Earth at night map in 2012, Román and teammates at NASA’s Earth Observing Satellite Data and Information System (EOSDIS) have been working to integrate nighttime data into NASA’s Global Imagery Browse Services (GIBS) and Worldview mapping tools. Freely available to the science community and the public via the Web, GIBS and Worldview allow users to see natural- and false-color images of Earth within hours of satellite acquisition.

They have released a new global composite map of night lights as observed in 2016, as well as a revised version of the 2012 map. The NASA group has examined the different ways that light is radiated, scattered and reflected by land, atmospheric and ocean surfaces. The principal challenge in nighttime satellite imaging is accounting for the phases of the moon, which constantly varies the amount of light shining on Earth, though in predictable ways. Likewise, seasonal vegetation, clouds, aerosols, snow and ice cover, and even faint atmospheric emissions (such as airglow and auroras) change the way light is observed in different parts of the world. The new maps were produced with data from all months of each year. The team wrote code that picked the clearest night views each month, ultimately combining moonlight-free and moonlight-corrected data.

composite image of continental U.S. at night, 2016
Composite image of continental U.S. at night, 2016. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
 

​Román and colleagues have been building remote sensing techniques to filter out these sources of extraneous light, gathering a better and more consistent signal of how human-driven patterns and processes are changing. The improved processing moves Suomi NPP closer to its full potential of observing dim light down to the scale of an isolated highway lamp or a fishing boat. The satellite’s workhorse instrument is the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), which detects photons of light reflected from Earth’s surface and atmosphere in 22 different wavelengths. VIIRS is the first satellite instrument to make quantitative measurements of light emissions and reflections, which allows researchers to distinguish the intensity, types and the sources of night lights over several years.

Suomi NPP observes nearly every location on Earth at roughly 1:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. (local time) each day, observing the planet in vertical 3000-kilometer strips from pole to pole. VIIRS includes a special “day-night band,” a low-light sensor that can distinguish night lights with six times better spatial resolution and 250 times better resolution of lighting levels (dynamic range) than previous night-observing satellites. And because Suomi NPP is a civilian science satellite, the data are freely available to scientists within minutes to hours of acquisition.

Chicago and Lake Michigan in 2012:
before

Chicago and Lake Michigan in 2016:
after
The most readily noticeable difference in these nighttime composite views of Chicago and surrounding areas in 2012 (top) and 2016 (bottom) is lighting along a recently expanded section of Interstate 90. This part of the highway, the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway, links Chicago with Rockford, Illinois, to the northwest. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
India in 2012:
before
India in 2016:
after

This before-and-after comparison shows composite nighttime views of India and surrounding areas in 2012 (top) and 2016 (rbottom). Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Armed with more accurate nighttime environmental products, the NASA team is now automating the processing so that users will be able to view nighttime imagery within hours of acquisition. This has the potential to aid short-term weather forecasting and disaster response.

“Thanks to VIIRS, we can now monitor short-term changes caused by disturbances in power delivery, such as conflict, storms, earthquakes and brownouts,” said Román. “We can monitor cyclical changes driven by reoccurring human activities such as holiday lighting and seasonal migrations. We can also monitor gradual changes driven by urbanization, out-migration, economic changes, and electrification. The fact that we can track all these different aspects at the heart of what defines a city is simply mind-boggling.”

 

composite image of Nile River and surrounding region at night, 2016
Composite image of Nile River and surrounding region at night, 2016. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
composite image of Europe at night, 2016
Composite image of Europe at night, 2016. Credits: NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

For instance, VIIRS detected power outages in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, a major storm that struck the northeastern Caribbean and the southeastern United States in late September 2016. NASA’s Disasters Response team provided the data to colleagues at the Federal Emergency Management Agency; in the future, NASA, FEMA and the Department of Energy hope to develop power outage maps and integrate the information into recovery efforts by first responders.

The NASA team envisions many other potential uses by research, meteorological and civic groups. For instance, daily nighttime imagery could be used to help monitor unregulated or unreported fishing. It could also contribute to efforts to track sea ice movements and concentrations. Researchers in Puerto Rico intend to use the dataset to reduce light pollution and help protect tropical forests and coastal areas that support fragile ecosystems. And a team at the United Nations has already used night lights data to monitor the effects of war on electric power and the movement of displaced populations in war-torn Syria.

In a separate, long-term project, Román is working with colleagues from around the world to improve global and regional estimates of carbon dioxide emissions. The team at NASA’s Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO) is combining night lights, urban land use data, and statistical and model projections of anthropogenic emissions in ways that should make estimates of sources much more precise.

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96 thoughts on “NASA’s “black marble” project – shows the growth of energy at night on Earth

    • Also most revealing is poor Africa – no infrastructure – no powerplants – no nothing – and you wonder why they are trying to get out of Dodge

      • If you have ever flown over it north to south you will discover there is nothing there at all.

        The Sahara and Sahel cover the whole of North Africa to quite near the equator, and there isn’t a lot on the equator, and then there is more arid stuff.

        Inly the coasts are inhabited at any great density.

    • Well the “Blue Marble” is actually a Black Marble.

      That phaux blau that you see in the blue marble picture, is actually back scattered incident solar spectrum radiation. You cannot see (from the moon), the ocean surface through that blue mist. The ocean looks black looking down just as the sky looks black looking up also absent that very same back scattered blue sky.

      I made a several hours long study of the sky on a flight from SFO to Honolulu, and I was never able to actually see the sea surface, until we were somewhere below 10,000 feet on approach to Hawaii. I just saw blue sky, and white clouds below me, and also (sometimes) above me. At 38,000 feet you don’t get a lot of clouds above you.
      Well there are those super high clouds that glow at night. And as every climatologist knows the higher the clouds are, the more they warm the earth. So those Noctilux clouds, are what causes global warming, all that LWIR reflected from clouds in outer space.

      G

  1. But wouldn’t all those lights be an indication of night time warming?….oh wait, can’t be, that’s global warming theory…
    Sorta the same way adding millions of miles of asphalt doesn’t make night time temps warmer…..that’s global warming theory too…
    What kind of UHI do you generate when you add millions of miles of asphalt?

      • I think the rural UHI just went up a notch. Would be interesting to see how many square miles of asphalt there actually is. UHI and land use change have to be much larger contributors of thermal heat to the Earth that we currently account for, all of which must be slowly radiated away to space too. If UHI turns out to be much more than currently gets credit, then warming from CO2 must be that much less. Blaming everything on CO2 is a childish argument. The sooner we learn that it is the human footprint and not a carbon footprint that we are measuring, the sooner we will be telling the truth about the whole story. #warmingisgood

      • “Earthling2 November 16, 2017 at 9:51 am
        I think the rural UHI just went up a notch. Would be interesting to see how many square miles of asphalt there actually is. UHI and land use change have to be much larger contributors of thermal heat to the Earth that we currently account for, all of which must be slowly radiated away to space too. If UHI turns out to be much more than currently gets credit, then warming from CO2 must be that much less. Blaming everything on CO2 is a childish argument. The sooner we learn that it is the human footprint and not a carbon footprint that we are measuring, the sooner we will be telling the truth about the whole story.”

        Great comment, Earthling2!

      • I zoomed in on Google Earth to just the SW portion of North Dakota and couldn’t find much evidence of more paved roads than South Dakota, just across the boarder. If you do find a road, you grab the “little Street View Guy” and the blue indicator for roads don’t seem any more plentiful for SW North Dakota than NW South Dakota.
        I did a search of the whole area and there are very few paved roads. The road concentration on certain areas of this map must be highly exaggerated.

      • Have to remember that these are maps. Interstate 10 that goes (approximately) south of Tucson and then up to Phoenix, is at most 100 yards wide. If you try to scale the line on a Rand-McNally? About 40 miles wide. Lying with maps is a branch of lying with statistics.

        For an interesting exercise, take that image of night lights in the US and invert it with a graphics program. It suddenly looks like a few random ink splatters on a very big piece of paper. (This is not an instance of lying, per se – but of selecting your visuals for impact – white is far more noticeable than black.)

    • +1^10!

      I visited one of those lines that first went in the late 50’s a few years back. The maze of roads, sidewalks and driveways were all smooth concrete when I use to walk them to school. 30 year of entropy led to repaving with asphalt starting in the late 70’s.

    • I’ve just said the same thing over at Dr. Ed Berry’s

      Has any consideration been given to what affect cumulatively adding 8 billion heat producing people, along with their heat producing activities has had on regional temperatures?

      For example, we know that London is generally warmer than surrounding areas because of the UHI.

      The local UHI effect is a product of human activity. Nothing to do with atmospheric co2 . But it affects temperatures.

      It requires one to kick the alleged dubious co2 link out of the mind for a moment.

      The average human radiates about 100w, their cars and trucks run at ~90°c, then there’s the heat generated (not the co2) from their requirements for heating, the same for their cooling, and, the list goes on and on.

      There might well be AGW, but it may have nothing to do with co2.

      Bottom of the page:
      http://edberry.com/blog/ed-berry/why-our-co2-emissions-do-not-increase-atmosphere-co2-part-2/#comment-43692

      • This is the line of thinking that will kick at lot of the wild attribution of CO2 to the curb. If a valid amount of human thermal heat can be established from multiple sources, then CO2 has to reduced by the same amount and can’t be responsible for all temp increases the last 150 years so therefore can’t all be attributable to CO2.

        I have thought this intuitively the last 25 years I have been a sceptic, but hardly anyone wants to talk about it, including skeptics. Not only thermal heat, but huge amounts of ‘human’ water vapour as well from irrigation, including the water vapour from ICE and thermal coal/gas as well. We all know H2O is the 800 pound gorilla in the room when relating to AGW, so let’s count up all the thermal heat and ‘permanent human introduced’ H2O and cancel the CO2 horror movie (An Inconvenient Sequel) next week. Sorry Al…the jig is up.

      • Humans have had a great deal of impact on the environment. Perspectives are where positives and negatives effect/affect the arguments for or against it. I find most alarmist are hypocrites. They use all the things they say are bad for the environment…some a lot more than the normal consumers.

    • That map looks impressive, but is deceptive. We’ve had the discussion about UHI here before, although not for quite a while. IIRC, UHI doesn’t add much heat to our atmosphere. It’s that hubris thing again. Whatever it does add is small and inconsequential, not unlike CO2. But it does mess with our temperature records something fierce.

      • It does not.

        Berkley Earth specifically examined the effect of UHI on the surface temp record and showed it does not influence it.

    • What kind of UHI do you generate when you add millions of miles of asphalt?

      Which begs the question of:

      What kind of UHI do you generate when you add tens-of-thousands of square miles of asphalt and rubber roofing?

  2. As someone who wants dark night skies for imaging, we need better night light management.

    But it did lead me to figuring out why co2 doesn’t have any effect (well CS <0.5C), and that night time temps under clear skies are actively controlled by water vapor.

    • https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incandescent_light_bulb

      Where is all the heating (warming) in the large metropolitan area’s if that is where high CO2 is being created by ICE vehicles, human respiration and cement and that lighting has a lot of IR percentage? WUWT just put out that article where tree’s growth in the cities are greater than in Urban and countrysides. How much of that artificial lighting is contributing to photosynthesis at night? That those studies imply are caused by the Warming Island Effects.

    • “micro6500 November 16, 2017 at 7:21 am
      As someone who wants dark night skies for imaging, we need better night light management…”

      Excellent points, micro6500; and I agree with your “protect the night skies” comment.

      When I moved to this rural location decades ago, I could view the Milky Way most clear nights. After a few malls were constructed nearby, only the brightest stars and planets remain visible.

  3. I’m glad the pics of Earth are descibed as being composite images. They are photo shopped as they have to be. The blue marble version of Earth is different to all the other versions. Just saying.

  4. Each pixel of light you see in the photo is untold billions of wasted photons. If you can see the light from space, it means the light isn’t pointed at anything that actually needs to be illuminated.

    Keep the light on the ground where it belongs, and let’s get our stars back!

    • Absolutely. Why people design lamps which blast half of the output light energy directly into space was always beyond me. But they do. Must have something to do with aesthetics and fashion I suppose.

    • It’s pretty hard to prevent the light from being reflected by the ground though. And if you could it would be useless in any case since our eyes work by reflected light.

      • >It’s pretty hard to prevent the light from being reflected by the ground though

        Yeah, I was hoping all these complaints about light leaking into space were sarcastic but I guess not.

        Atmospheric moisture also causes the scattering into the ether.

      • tty nailed it when he said It’s pretty hard to prevent the light from being reflected by the ground though.

        I think it is safe to say that all of the artificial light seen from above at night is reflected from the ground.

      • Ray in SC

        I think it is safe to say that all of the artificial light seen from above at night is reflected from the ground.

        “Yup”, …… and iffen all those sources of light didn’t have rain/snow/reflector shields over top of them …….. those satellite pictures would really be “glaringly” bright.

    • I suspect a good bit of that light seen from space is reflected off the ground and the surrounding structures. Very few outdoor lights do not have overhead reflectors to at least get some use from the photons that are radiated upwards.

      • Reflections from surfaces is pretty much all there is now, with the occasional holiday season exception.

  5. A total waste of energy if all this light is heading away from the Earth’s surface. Newcastle upon Tyne England, where I have my UK home is near the North East coast, about 60 miles south of the Scottish border. You can see the light pollution from the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland. Drive 30 miles west and you are in Kielder Forest, which has a Dark Sky Award. There are a total of 8 of these sites in mainland UK, which is very good for an island as small as ours. These awards are from: http://www.darksky.org/ As well as wasting energy, street lighting makes seeing the night sky in all of its beauty impossible. In Newcastle i can see stars with the naked eye of Magnitude 3 or brighter only. In Marbella,Spain.(the pinpoint of light on the South coast just before it bends towards Africa),visibility is limited to Magnitude 2

  6. Portugal seems to be a pretty heavily-lit place. Population density is slightly less than that of France, and only about 40 percent that of UK, yet it looks like a fairground. Unshielded street lighting? Any Portuguese care to comment?

    • All the working girls at the Sunset Grill in California need illumination to interest their Johns.

  7. The comparative photos of India in 2012 and 2016 show that there has been a lot of new lighting in India over the past five years. That’s great for the prosperity of the Indian people (much brighter than in Pakistan to the northwest), but I wonder how much more CO2 was emitted to turn all those new lights on! But the geniuses in Paris didn’t impose any CO2 emission restrictions on India. Why not?

    The article didn’t show any night photos of the Korean peninsula, with blazing lights south of the DMZ, and utter darkness to the north, all the way to the border with China or Russia. The DMZ is clearly the dividing line between light and darkness. Krazy Kim (Jong-un) is literally on the dark side!

  8. 30 years ago I never would have asked this but it is 2017 so have these images been homogenized or corrected and is this a blueprint defining who owes who what?

  9. A lot more LEDs for lighting does not make up for the fact that black asphalt parking lots were added at high rates in the great overbuild of U.S. retail which now stands at about double the retail store footprint of Europe. I rather doubt screwing in some LEDs is going to make up for that. And demise of that retail space by ecommerce does not mean the parking lots will be removed.

  10. ‘in my view shows how humans have conquered darkness with energy, and illuminated Earth as seen from space, so that any entity who might be looking, could see the planet is filled with sentience. It is the one human accomplishment that can be seen from far away.’

    I suspect that the Sun’s light shining through our atmosphere and on out into space would show the presence of man made pollutants which would indicate at a much greater distance our level of development.

  11. Fake Maps! I’ve always been suspicious of these maps. They look like they’re using a highly non-linear palette to render the light sources. That would give you the impression of searing hot light when the fact is that most lights are dim and some are variable. Does anyone know for certain what manipulations they’re doing with these light maps (or asphalt)? Are they, for example, rounding up to the nearest pixel on the final map if any pixel in that area has a certain threshold intensity? I suspect that’s exactly what they’re doing. The idea of these maps is to convey how humans have ruined the planet. How are they going to do that if they don’t cheat?

    • Compare aerial views of Jacksonville to the NASA map to see how photo-shopped their map is.

      I went looking for decent images of cities at night, but really couldn’t find a decent source. Most places are just regurgitating the NASA images. Is there a good site for images taken from low altitude of major cities at night so I can do a good comparison with the NASA world map?

    • I have had the same concern for some time. When I look at a city fro 10,000 m it does not look as bright as the images taken from 100,000 m.

    • What electricity there is goes into the nuclear program rather than improving the lives of Fat Boy’s enslaved subjects.

    • Per capita GDP of the RoK is about 20 times that of the Norks. The DMZ starkly marks the difference between capitalism and socialism.

      • Do you mean SE coast?

        That might be Cheju Island. It looks like it, with mountains in the middle. Can’t very precisely estimate latitude from the image.

      • You do understand the Suomi NPP satellite orbits the Earth around 800 miles up and the VIIRS instrument is looking at the ground…right? How many stars do you see when you are flying along looking only at the ground?

        Suomi NPP observes nearly every location on Earth at roughly 1:30 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. (local time) each day, observing [down on] the planet in vertical 3000-kilometer strips from pole to pole.

      • JKrob, to use your somewhat obnoxious form of rhetoric right back at you, we did all see full hemisphere images in the article, didn’t we?

        Micro6500’s response is correct. Yours? Meh!

      • sigh… sorry to be Captain Obvious, but the ‘Blue Marble’ was assembled from the 3000 km-wide strips of the individual passes of the Suomi NPP satellite. One would think that would be, well…obvious.

        What micro6500 said was true but irrelevant.

      • Groan, good luck with your idea that Blue Marble was faked. You’d better go edit the wikipedia entry and tell a whole bunch of people who think that “The photograph was taken about 5 hours and 6 minutes after launch of the Apollo 17 mission,[5] and about 1 hour 54 minutes after the spacecraft left its parking orbit around the Earth, to begin its trajectory to the Moon. The time of Apollo 17’s launch, 12:33 a.m. EST, meant that Africa was in daylight during the early hours of the spacecraft’s flight. With the December solstice approaching, Antarctica was also illuminated.”

        Above all try not to be such a jerk.

    • Interesting how no stars show up.

      The earth is likely 5 or 6 orders of magnitude brighter than any stars in the background, same reason you do not see stars around the moon in pictures.
      This is a couple hours of exposure

      This is 19 hours of exposure

      The Moon needs about 1/100 of a second exposure.

  12. Somewhere in the article was a list of “nations” that included Puerto Rico. Not true–at least, not yet!

  13. Now remind me again about just how much of the Globe is covered by Human populations. A lot more than that is covered by agriculture but, even then, nature still wins/ If we can only not damage it too much anyway.

  14. Typo -“complementary”, “e” not “i”.

    [Good point. The second image of earth supplements, but in the mind of NASA’s anti-energy, anti-growth agenda does not compliment the first image of the pair of pictures. .mod]

  15. Those photos show fairly large areas of planet Earth to be as hot as the surface of the Sun. Maybe they are over-exposed ?

  16. Does anyone believe that this information would actually be of any use in disaster management? The folks with the disaster already know about it before these folks would get around to telling anyone about it the next day.

    Sounds like trying to justify their budget to me and therefore if any tax monies are spent on this it should be chopped.

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