High spatial resolution night-time light images for demographic and socio-economic studies

Noam Levin*, Yishai Duke

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Satellite derived night-time lights have been used to study global economic and demographic differences between countries. The majority of studies to date have used the coarse spatial resolution datasets of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP). In this study, we hypothesize that night-time lights can serve as an indicator for demographic and socio-economic properties of built-up areas at a local scale. We used night-time light images acquired by the American DMSP (2003, 2.7. km), Argentinean SAC-C (2007, 300. m) and photographs taken by astronauts from the International Space Station (ISS; 2003, 60. m). We compared the night-time lights of built-up areas based on their geographical location (Israel and the West Bank) and their population (Jewish and Arab). Israeli localities were better lit than West Bank localities, corresponding to the difference in the gross domestic product of the two entities. No difference was found in the night-time lights brightness of Jewish and Arab localities within Israel. However, night-time lights of built-up areas with a Jewish population within Israel and the West Bank were positively correlated with population density and roads density. In contrast, built-up areas with an Arab population had weaker correlations. Differences in the urban structure of Jewish and Arab built-up areas, as well as economic and geopolitical differences between Israel and the West Bank led to the observed differences in night-time lights patterns. Demographic and infrastructure data were able to explain 60% of the spatial variation of the ISS night-time lights, compared with only 28% of the spatial variation of the DMSP night-time lights dataset. The results of this study demonstrate potential uses of night-time lights databases of high spatial resolution, and emphasize the need for a dedicated night-time lights observing satellite.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - 16 Apr 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was partly supported by the Floresheimer Institute for Policy Studies ( http://www.fips.org.il/ ). The SAC-C satellite image was obtained from CONAE (Comisión Nacional de Actividades Espaciales, Argentina; http://www.conae.gov.ar/ . The GIS layer of built-up areas in Israel was obtained from the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection ( Kaplan et al., 2006 ). We thank Iraphne Childs, Salit Kark and Tessa Rawson for comments on a previous version of this manuscript. We thank the three reviewers whose suggestions helped to improve the clarity of the manuscript.


  • DMSP
  • ISS
  • Israel
  • Night-time lights
  • SAC-C
  • Urban structure


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