Light pollution increasing around globe
Light pollution increasing around globe Earth’s night lights as observed in 2016. (NASA )
Light pollution increasing around globe
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The world's nights are getting alarmingly brighter - bad news for all sorts of creatures, humans included.

A German-led team reported last Wednesday that light pollution is threatening darkness almost everywhere. Satellite observations during five Octobers show Earth's artificially lit outdoor area grew by 2 percent a year from 2012 to 2016, as did nighttime brightness.

Light pollution is actually worse than that, according to the researchers. Their measurements coincide with the outdoor switch to energy-efficient and cost-saving light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. Because the imaging sensor on the polar-orbiting weather satellite can't detect the LED-generated color blue, some light is missed.

The observations, for example, indicate stable levels of night light in the United States, Netherlands, Spain and Italy. But light pollution is almost certainly on the rise in those countries given this elusive blue light, said Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences and lead author of the study published in Science Advances.

Also on the rise is the spread of light into the hinterlands and overall increased use. The findings shatter the long-held notion that more energy efficient lighting would decrease usage on the global - or at least a national - scale.

"Honestly, I had thought and assumed and hoped that with LEDs we were turning the corner. There's also a lot more awareness of light pollution," he told reporters by phone from Potsdam. "It is quite disappointing."

The biological impact from surging artificial light is also significant, according to the researchers.

People's sleep can be marred, which in turn can affect their health. The migration and reproduction of birds, fish, amphibians, insects and bats can be disrupted. Plants can have abnormally extended growing periods. And forget about seeing stars or the Milky Way, if the trend continues.

About the only places with dramatic declines in night light were in areas of conflict like Syria and Yemen, the researchers found. Australia also reported a noticeable drop, but that's because wildfires were raging early in the study. Researchers were unable to filter out the bright burning light.

Asia, Africa and South America, for the most part, saw a surge in artificial night lighting.

More and more places are installing outdoor lighting given its low cost and the overall growth in communities' wealth, the scientists noted. Urban sprawl is also moving towns farther out and the outskirts of major cities in developing nations are brightening quite rapidly, in fact, Kyba said.

Other especially bright hot spots: sprawling greenhouses in the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Photos taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station also illuminate the growing problem.

Franz Holker of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, a co-author, said things are at the critical point.

"Many people are using light at night without really thinking about the cost," Holker said. Not just the economic cost, "but also the cost that you have to pay from an ecological, environmental perspective."

Kyba and his colleagues recommend avoiding glaring lamps whenever possible - choosing amber over so-called white LEDs - and using more efficient ways to illuminate places like parking lots or city streets. For example, dim, closely spaced lights tend to provide better visibility than bright lights that are more spread out.

The International Dark-Sky Association, based in Tucson, Arizona, has been highlighting the hazards of artificial night light for decades.

"We hope that the results further sound the alarm about the many unintended consequences of the unchecked use of artificial light at night," Director J. Scott Feierabend said in a statement.

An instrument on the 2011-launched U.S. weather satellite, Suomi, provided the observations for this study. A second such instrument - known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS - was launched on a new satellite by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This latest VIIRS will join the continuing night light study.

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Why is this a bigger issue in some places, but not all places?
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  • ZakW-pla
    1/29/2018 - 01:55 p.m.

    This article focuses on the large amounts of light pollution around the globe, and how levels continue to rise even as public awareness is raised. Light pollution has a massive impact on reproduction, migration, and sleep patterns in animals. It also decreases the visibility of stars. Light pollution affects people from all walks of life in a variety of ways. The night sky connects the world, and has served for centuries as a guiding light for humanity. Any threat to the night sky is also a threat to our shared history as explorers and wayfarers. Light pollution is caused at all levels. As such, everyone on Earth has the opportunity to make a difference, however slight. Even if that difference is as small as turning off an exterior light when it is not in use, it can make a difference. If the human race as a whole grows more conscious of light pollution, and the effects it has on our communities and our environment, we can take steps to preserve the beauty and the legacy of the night sky.

  • MindaraKO-pla1
    1/29/2018 - 02:06 p.m.

    This article outlines how our planet's light pollution has increased over the past few years. The author explains to readers how light pollution affects not only humans, but animals and their life cycles as well as the overall environment of the Earth. Although they are more energy and cost efficient, the switch to LEDs has increased the amount of light pollution over the past couple of years. As urban areas of the world begin to grow, so does the amount of light pollution. After a weather probe study was conducted on light pollution, scientists hope that people will become more conscious of the light that they are using so that light pollution may be decreased. In my life, I tend to use lights at night, especially LEDs, to continue to see while it is dark outside, and I had not realized how much light pollution that was actually happening around the world. Although I am conscious of turning off lights that I am not using, I know that others might not be. By becoming aware of the light pollution problem in the world, talking about light pollution with those in my community may help spread awareness on this issue.

  • ErinS-pla
    1/29/2018 - 08:40 p.m.

    I find the smallest things seem to create the biggest impacts. 1879, the lightbulb was invented by the innovative scientist by the name of Thomas Edison. This invention once believed to be pure fantasy, is now an integrated part of our society. As a result, the lightbulb is now overused around the globe. Although light pollution has remained constant in the United States, the Netherlands, Spain, and Italy, globalization has shown the use of harmful LEDs on the rise in other countries under development. The effects of light pollution are underrated. Although the common misconception is that light pollution only affects our view of the stars, there are so many more detrimental impacts. The constant exposure to light at all hours of the day and night causes irregularities in humans’ sleep schedule resulting in long-term health problems. Furthermore, light pollution greatly impacts the migration and reproduction of birds and other animals, especially those who are nocturnal. However, we do not need to lay economic and environmental waste to our society. Small changes and advocacy in our community would greatly impact this growing problem. We can become civically engaged by petitioning for ending unnecessary light exposure in the world around us. We can switch the harsh, white LED lights for amber ones to create a better environment where we are respectful of our sleep and the ecosystems around us by simply turning off the lights. Only then, can we wish upon a star for a more efficient and eco-friendly world of coexisting.

  • MichaelS-pla1
    1/30/2018 - 11:33 a.m.

    The article overturns the belief that using LED lights would automatically lower light pollution. It was, in fact, been growing. Light pollution is a cancer risk factor, disturbing for animals, as well as a waste of resources. This article suggests some ways to curb light pollution. Marcia Dunn, the author, demonstrates civic engagement by staying informed about the light pollution situation, and writing this informative article to spread awareness and encourage other to respond to the situation.

  • EleonorW-pla
    1/30/2018 - 01:41 p.m.

    Light pollution is spreading around the globe. As populations increase,so do the amount of outside lights. Experts recommend that instead of using LED lights, use amber colored lights as white light creates more light pollution. They actually reduce the amount of light pollution and increase visibility. People should care about this because light pollution effects sleep quality, migration patterns of many different species of animals, and of course you can't see the stars very much. Something everyone can do to change the growing percentages of light pollution is to make the switch from LED lights to amber colored lights.

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