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Estimation of Light Pollution Using Satellite Remote Sensing and Geographic Information System Techniques

Mohsin Jamil Butt1

Department of Meteorology, King Abdulaziz University, P. O. Box 80208 Jeddah 21589, Saudi Arabia

Abstract: The primary focus of this research is to estimate light pollution in the urban and suburban regions of Pakistan with the help of satellite remote sensing (SRS) and geographic information system (GIS) techniques. Analog maps and multi-temporal nighttime images of the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) onboard Operational Linescan System (OLS) sensor were used in this study. A series of direct and indirect light pollution maps of the study area were generated and analyzed. The results of the study show that in the urban environment, light pollution is mainly due to artificial nightlight sources.

INTRODUCTION In many fields of science, including astronomy, atmospheric physics, environmental sciences, and natural and human sciences, the interest in light pollution has been growing in the past few years (Cinzano et al., 2001a, 2001b; Doll, 2008). Nightlight emission (due to increased use of artificial lights and lamps) thus has become one of the main elements of environmental pollution (Lilensten et al., 2008). Environmentalists are concerned due to the direct effects of light pollution on wildlife, as well as on the overall quality of life for the people of a country. From an environmentalists point of view, the negative effects of light pollution include the disturbance of biological rhythms, psychological effects, and environmental degradation (Shaflik, 1997; Borg, 1996). However, astronomers are among the worst affected by urban sky glow because light pollution not only damages the perception of the starry sky, but is also silently altering even the perception of a moonlit night by mankind (Cinzano et al., 2001b). Light pollution limits the ability of a telescope to capture celestial light, making it difficult for astronomers to observe the sky (Cinzano et al., 2000). Thus, light pollution is measured around the observatories so that necessary action can be taken to account for the degradation of stellar visibility (Garstang, 1989; Hernndez et al., 2010; Kocifaj 2010). Various groups have conducted research: (a) to create maps showing the skyglow variations at different altitudes and azimuths (Garstang, 1986; Duriscoe et al., 2007; Luginbuhl et al., 2009a, 2009b); (b) to map the artificial sky brightness over large territories (Cinzano et al., 2000, 2001a; Chalkias et al., 2006; Kerola 2006); and


GIScience & Remote Sensing, 2012, 49, No. 4, p. 609621. Copyright 2012 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved.


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(c) to map urban areas using DMSPOLS data (Elvidge et al., 1997; Imhoff et al., 1997; Amaral et al., 2005). Light pollution depends on several factors, including population growth, illumination source intensity, and aerosols and molecular absorption (Shirkey, 2006). However, light pollution is directly correlated with the presence of human activities and thus disturbs the tranquility of an area. Many countries have applied light pollution laws; for example, Italy experimented with a new law in 2002 to minimize the effect of light pollution (Schelz and Richman, 2003). In Pakistan, due to urban growth, intensive cultivation activities, and transportation network expansion, the disturbance of tranquility is profound not only in urban areas but also in suburban and rural areas. Thus, dark skies are rapidly receding in Pakistan due to swift urban growth occurring in recent decades (Population Census, 1998). The objective of this research is to estimate the light pollution in Pakistan with the help of satellite remote sensing (SRS) and geographic information system (GIS) techniques. The map of the study area (Pakistan) showing the countrys four provinces is shown in Figure 1. Satellite remote sensor imagery has been identified as a potentially useful source of information for mapping purposes. The integration of SRS and GIS has been widely applied and recognized as an efficient tool. In this research, we use SRS and GIS techniques to study the nightlight pollution. For this purpose Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) images were used to measure the outward nightlight flux from the study area. The objective of this study is to develop and present a methodology for modeling light pollution, as well as to estimate the grade of light pollution in Pakistans urban and suburban areas by creating various relevant maps. The light pollution maps produced using the satellite remote sensing and GIS techniques will be very useful for the selection of the site of the Pakistan National Observatory. STUDY AREA Pakistan is situated between the peninsulas of Arabia and Indo-China (Fig. 1), lying between 24 N and 37 N Latitude and 61 E and 75.5 E Longitude. The Chinese territory of Xinjiang is situated to the north and northeast of Pakistan. In the northwest, a narrow arm of Afghanistan separates Pakistan from the Central Asian states. On the west, low dry hills separate Pakistan from Afghanistan. The length of this border is 2240 km and is known as Durand Line (demarcated in 1897). In the southwest, Pakistan has a common frontier with Iran of about 800 km. On the east, Pakistan is bounded by the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan, with which it shares a 1600 km border. On the south, the country fronts on the Arabian Sea. Administratively, the country is divided into four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, and Balochistan. In the current study, light pollution maps of all four provinces were generated to determine the most feasible area (in terms of the lowest level of light pollution) for the proposed Astronomical Observatory. DATA DMSP uses satellites of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in low-altitude, sun-synchronous polar orbit, with an orbital period of 101 min. The Operational Linescan System (OLS) radiometer is the primary scanner installed

estimation of light pollution

Fig. 1. Map showing the study area (Pakistan) and its provinces, where nightlight pollution is detected. The inset map shows the countries neighboring Pakistan.



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Table 1. Detailed Description of the F16 DMSP-OLS System

Period of operation Temporal resolution Altitude Swath width Spatial resolution Spectral resolution 20042009 Twice per day 830 km (approx.) 3000 km 2.7 km 00.4001.10 m (visible) 10.2512.60 m (infrared)

on the DMSP, consisting of two telescopes and a photo multiplier tube (PMT). The telescope is sensitive to radiation from 0.4 to 1.1 m, whereas the PMT is sensitive to radiation from 0.47 to 0.95 m, with highest sensitivity at 0.55 to 0.65 m. Thus it has the capability to detect faint sources of visible near-infrared (VNIR) emissions on the Earths surface. The visible channel has a spatial resolution of 0.47 km in fine mode (high resolution) and 2.7 km in smooth mode (low resolution), and a radiometric resolution of 6 bits (values ranging from 0 to 63). On the other hand, the infrared pixel values correspond to a temperature range of 190310 K and a radiometric resolution of 8 bits (in 256 equally spaced steps). A detailed description of the DMSP-OLS is given in Table 1. Cloud-free temporal DMSP nighttime emission images of the study area for the period 20042009 were obtained from National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC). However, the selection of suitable images is very difficult because the optical satellite images are hampered due to cloud cover. The other part of the GIS spatial database consists of basic cartographic data derived from analog maps and satellite images: the road network, topography, stream network, land cover, and population data. METHODOLOGY The main objective of the current study was to identify the amount of light pollution due to artificial nightlights in Pakistan. Two basic parameters of light pollutionthat is, direct visual contact with nightlights and indirect light pollution (visual contact with the sky glow dome over the metropolitan area)were studied. Satellite data (DMSP) for the year 20042009, sky-glow data, cartographic data (road network, topography, stream network, and land cover) and population data were used to generate the light pollution maps of the study area. The technological context of the proposed approach includes GIS and SRS techniques. The DMSP satellites have the capability to detect faint sources of visible near-infrared (VNIR) emissions on the Earths surface. This capability allows detection and mapping of the nighttime emission (upward light emissions) from cities and towns (Elvidge et al., 1997; Croft, 1978; Elvidge et al., 2004, 2007). However, there might be some pixels that are saturated or overglow in the image (Small et al., 2005). Thus, any application with the nighttime light data set will need to take into account the limitations of using the data source.

estimation of light pollution


Imagery from the DMSP-OLS satellite has a tendency to overestimate due to overglow effect. In addition, light can appear dimmer and more spatially diffuse where thin clouds are present. Many researchers (for example, Croft 1973, 1978; Welch, 1980; Foster, 1983; and Welch and Zupko 1980) have used DMSP-OLS images as a potential urban mapping tool and expressed the problems of ephemeral light sources. Imhoff et al. (1997) proposed a threshold technique (thresholds ranging from 80 to 97% for different cities in the U.S.) to correct for the effect of ephemeral light sources. However, issues concerning the use of census data as a benchmark for evaluating the accuracy of remotely sensed imagery and a range of thresholds required for use for different cities were very crucial. In the present study, filtering of selected images (based on frequency) is used to remove the ephemeral events. The procedure involves the detection and geolocation of VNIR emission sources from a large number of nighttime OLS images and the use of image time series analysis to distinguish stable lights produced by cities, towns, and industrial facilities from ephemeral lights arising from fire, lightning, and other temporary features. The method was useful not only in excluding clouds but also in analyzing the stable light which is of key importance in distinguishing different light sources (e.g., city lights, shipping fleets, or forest fires). Image pre-processing was performed using ERDAS Imagine 9.1 image processing software. The satellite data (tiff image format) were converted into img format. In addition, the images (geographic coordinate system) were converted into Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) World Geodetic System (WGS-84). For the study region (Pakistan) UTM zones 41, 42, and 43 were used. In the end, by using the ERDAS IMAGINE 9.1 subset utility program, the required study area was truncated from the global composite image. Similarly, to produce the representative image and eliminate noise effects, multiple images of the same period were combined using cartographic overlay techniques. The optical interpretation of infrared imagery was performed to depict the proper cloud-free VNIR images for further analysis. In order to maintain the most frequent values for each pixel and reject the extreme values, these set of nightlight images were overlaid onto the images from the same period using local statistical cartographical overlay functions (Tomlin, 1990) and to investigate ephemeral nightlight sources. Thus, the representative nightlight images using maintained values were created. The final products were cloud-free composite images for the period between 2004 and 2009. Over 50 scenes were combined in order to produce 06 composite images. The digital number (DN) values in the DMSP-OLS image range from 0 to 63. A threshold value had to be assigned in order to extract the area under light pollution. Selecting an appropriate threshold is difficult in a large area because of the different levels of socioeconomic development, the mixed pixel problem, and the impacts of the background (ephemeral light, low-level illumination). However, by investigating the DMSP images and the cartographic data, the DN value of 05 was selected as the threshold for light pollution resources. Spectral values were categorized under five classes, very low (0614), low (1520), moderate (2130), high (3140), and very high (4163), assuming that in each class spectral values have a similar effect on the environment. The direct visual method was applied to investigate and quantify the amount of direct visual contact between an observer and nightlights using DMSP data. It is possible to perform the line-of-sight estimations and view-shed mapping with the help of Arc GIS software (Burrough and McDonnell, 1998). The cells in an input raster


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Fig. 2. Nightlight field measurements for the observation sites of Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Islamabad in 2009.

that may be seen from one or more observation points can be identified by viewshed mapping. Thus, each cell in the output raster receives a value that indicates how many observation points are distinguishable by the specific cell. The main intention was to perform visibility analysis considering nightlight sources as observation points (extracted from DMSP data). The high light emission points inside cells were identified as areas with significant artificial nightlight emissions. The product (estimated number of cells of light emissions), was an output raster with cell values representing the total amount of visible observation points. The second approach identifies areas affected with indirect (visual contact with the sky glow due to city lights) light pollution. Thus, the identification of sky-glow geometry is the most important parameter in this case. Many researchers have used various techniques to solve this problem (Walker, 1977; Garstang, 2000). In the current study, the sky-glow dome geometry was estimated through field observations. Light measurements of the sky were taken from remote sites using a sensitive light meter placed on a theodolite, assuming that there is an isotropic sky-glow development around the area. Figure 2 shows the same measurements taken at Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Quetta, and Islamabad, which are the largest urban cities in the country. The interpretation of these measurements gives the height of the sky-glow dome, which reduces as we move from the city center toward the suburbs. The correlation between the sky-glow height and the distance from the city was calculated using the measurements. The visibility analyses were performed producing the result that the output grid quantifies the indirect light pollution which represents the area where the observer has direct optical contact with the sky glow. This is a time-consuming iterative approach that demands large amounts of computational power. Finally, light pollution maps were produced using the natural breaks method (Dent, 1993), which is a commonly used classification scheme in ArcGIS software. In the natural breaks method the classes are based on natural groupings inherent in the data. The ArcMap software identifies break points by picking the class breaks that best

estimation of light pollution


Fig. 3. Direct light pollution map for the year 2004.

group similar values and maximize the differences between classes. The features are divided into classes whose boundaries are set where there are relatively large jumps in the data values. Thus, we divided a range of brightness values and named each range a separate class. The final step, as shown in Figures 3 and 4, was the classification of the output raster in order to determine areas with low to high direct visibility of nightlight emissions. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION The main consideration when working with nighttime lights imagery is the extent to which the spatial area depicted on the images matches the true size of the lit area on the ground. Imagery from the DMSP-OLS satellite has a tendency to overestimate this parameter due to coarse spatial resolution, large overlap between pixels, errors in geolocation, and the atmospheric water vapor content. The combined effect of these factors ultimately results in a general overestimation of the area under study. Classified maps of the polluted regions of the study area (Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, and Balochistan) for the years 2004 and 2009 are shown in figures 3 and 4 respectively. The white portion represents minimum or no light pollution captured by the satellite sensor, whereas the darkest tones show maximum light pollution. It is evident from Figures 3 and 4 that Punjab and Balochistan have the highest and lowest light pollution areas, respectively. This is because many urban and developed cities of the country are situated in Punjab province, while only few developed cities


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Fig. 4. Direct light pollution map for the year 2009.

are located in Balochistan. It is also evident from Figures 3 and 4 that the northern, eastern, and central parts of Punjab, the southwestern and central parts of Sindh, the central part of Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, and the western part of Balochistan are the most light-polluted areas in the country. This is understandable, as the major urban cities (Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Multan, Karachi, Hyderabad, Peshawar and Queta) are located in these areas. According to the census data, these cities are the largest populated areas in the country, and thus contribute to the greatest light pollution. Similarly, temporal variations in disturbance due to nightlights using DMSP time series data were also investigated. The change in direct nightlight pollution in the study area (Pakistan) for the period 20042009 is shown in Figure 5. It is evident from Figure 5 that all four provinces (Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa, and Balochistan) in the country exhibit an increasing trend toward light pollution from 2004 to 2009. The increasing trend, however, is most pronounced in Punjab province. It is also clear (Fig. 5) that light pollution during the study period has increased in the major urban areas of the country due to infrastructure development in the vicinity of the cities. Thus, the information depicted in Figure 5 is very important for the selection of the site of the Pakistan National Observatory. Using satellite remote sensing and GIS techniques, three sites in Balochistanin the districts of Kharan in the southwest, Qila Saifullah in the north, and Awaran in the south (Fig. 6)have been identified as the potential sites for the National Observatory. The Pakistan census report of population data, as presented in Table 2, shows that there was a significant increase in Pakistans population from 1951 to 1998 which has

estimation of light pollution


Fig. 5. Changes in direct light pollution for the period 20042009.

Table 2. Population Growth of Pakistan, 19511998

Year 1951 1961 1972 1981 1998 Population (mill.) 33.74 42.88 65.3 84.25 132.35

Source: Population Census, 1998

affected urbanization in the country. Urban growth is increasing as more and more people are migrating from rural to the urban areas. Table 3 shows the total area under light pollution during the study period (20042009). The area under light pollution was estimated by multiplying the total number of pixels for each class (very low, low, moderate, high, very high) by the pixel area (0.84 km2). It is evident from Table 3 that the area of light pollution has increased from 35.03% of the entire country in 2004 to 36.27 % in 2009. Thus, increasing population is one of the reasons for the increase of light pollution in most of the areas of Pakistan. A number of light pollution maps were produced using the aforementioned methodology, depicting the amount of visual


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Fig. 6. Three potential site locations for the Pakistan National Observatory based on light pollution mapping.

contact between light sources and locations of the study area. In general, a significant increase of light pollution is evident in the suburban areas of Lahore, Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar, and Islamabad. Isolated areas with limited disturbance from nighttime lights are located mainly in southern and eastern Punjab province. These are the most tranquil regions among the countrys metropolitan areas according to their level of light pollution. Thus, it is important to protect the pureness of the environment in these areas. Classification of the cities outskirts by considering the effects of light pollution by means of the light pollution maps also depicts the rate of energy waste, and therefore special attention must be paid to reduce it through better design of street lamps and lighting. Thus, SRS and GIS techniques are two powerful tools for the estimation of light pollution in this study, which attempted to produce results that are as close as possible to the natural condition of the environment. CONCLUSION The current research is an application of SRS and GIS technologies in the assessment of light pollution. DMSP imagery that provides information on nightlight pollution is the main data set used in the study. Maps produced with the help of GIS provide decision-makers and researchers with useful information about the spatial dispersion of disturbed and relatively tranquil areas in the country. The analysis of nightlight data for the study area indicates a significant increase in direct light pollution during the

estimation of light pollution


Table 3. Areas (km2) Experiencing Various Levels of Light Pollution, 20042009

Year 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Total area 281,643 282,351 284,142 285,928 288,989 291,661 Very low 84,643 110,234 57,369 57,515 71,380 50,014 Low 168,152 149,193 197,368 193,985 189,685 214,165 Moderate 17,168 12,689 17,823 22,380 14,856 15,183 High 6,529 5,848 6,293 7,030 7,327 7,284 Very high 5,150 4,387 5,289 5,018 5,740 5,015 Percentage of total land area 35.03 35.12 35.34 35.56 35.94 36.27

last six years. Large suburban tracts are experiencing both direct and indirect light pollution. Future work will focus on the application of the methodology using additional impact factors (settlements, industries, road network, vegetation) for an estimation of zones of tranquillity with respect to light pollution. The results are most striking in places that have undergone massive economic/political changes. It is recommended that the new site for the Pakistan National Observatory should be far away from the major cities (Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar, Queta, and Islamabad), with a location (Fig. 6) in the Balochistan province (Kharan, Qila Saifullah, and Awaran) being ideal. The results of the current research are important for both environmentalists and astronomers. It is concluded that understanding how lights behave in space and time will lead to the sound scientific use of the data set and minimize misinterpretation of the results. In addition, the fact that there are duplicate sensor data for many years will assist researchers in developing some form of calibration to help interpret brightness changes over time. ACKNOWLEDGMENT The author greatly appreciates useful suggestions and comments for the completion of this manuscript from the Editor of the journal. REFERENCES Amaral, S., Monteiro, A. M. V., Camara, G., and J. A. Quintanilha, 2005, Estimating Population and Energy Consumption in Brazilian Amazon Using DMSP Night Time Satellite Data, Computers, Environment, and Urban Systems, 29(2):179 195. Borg, V., 1996, Death of Night, Geographical Magazine, 68:56. Burrough, P. A. and R. A. McDonnell, 1998, Principles of Geographical Information Systems. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Chalkias, C., Petrakis, M., Psiloglou, B., and M. Lianou, 2006, Modeling of Light Pollution in Suburban Areas Using Remotely Sensed Imagery and GIS, Journal of Environmental Management, 79(1):5763.


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