Night-time Satellite Imagery Helps Identify Rural Electrification

Utilizing night lights imagery from NOAA’s fleet of satellites, the World Bank is analyzing night lights imagery of the world. In a recent blog post, the World Bank has announced the launch of a website which presents maps and analysis of night-lights over India, which can be extended easily to other regions and countries as well. These results are given on the webpage, and the data can be accessed through API also.


India night lights produced by the analysis described below. Source: WorldBank /

NOAA’s DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) is the oldest set of satellites monitoring night lights, aided in recent years by observations from the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) sensor onboard the Suomi-NPP satellite (see some more interesting applications of VIIRS here).

At NOAA, the Earth Observation Group (EOG) specialises in the analysis of night-lights imagery. One of the leading scientists and leaders of the EOG group, who has made a career out of analysing night-lights imagery, is Chris Elvidge. Besides many other applications, EOG at NOAA has previously also developed a Night Light Development Index (NLDI) as a “simple, objective, spatially explicit and globally available empirical measurement of human development derived solely from nighttime satellite imagery and population density.” A scientific paper on development of NLDI can be accessed here.

There is an also interesting Masters Thesis from ETH Zurich on “Nighttime lights as proxy for the spatial growth of dense urbanized areas”, and all relevant info is available at the World at Night website.

Finally, here is a really interested detailed article on NASA EarthObservatory detailing how satellites observe night-light imagery.

Using satellite night-lights imagery to study and analyse urban / rural sprawl and growth is a great example of how remote sensing can be used to leverage socio-economical planning and development.

See a previous post about Night-time Imaging and Video from Space.

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About WQ

I received my PhD (2013) in Remote Sensing, Earth and Space Science at the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA, under a Fulbright fellowship. Currently, I'm an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Space Science at Institute of Space Technology (IST), Islamabad, Pakistan, where I have been a founding member of the Geospatial Research & Education Lab (GREL). My general expertise is in Remote Sensing where I have worked with various remote sensing datasets through my career, while for my PhD thesis I specifically worked on Remote Sensing using SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and Oceanography, working extensively on development of techniques to measure ocean surface currents from space-borne SAR intensity images and interferometric data. My research interests are: Remote sensing, Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery and interferometric data processing & analysis, Visible/Infrared/High-resolution satellite image processing & analysis, Oceanography, Earth system study and modelling, LIDAR data processing and analysis, Scientific programming. I am a reviewer for IEEE Transactions on Geoscience & Remote Sensing, Forest Ecosystems, GIScience & Remote Sensing, Journal of African Earth Sciences, and Italian Journal of Agronomy. I am an alumnus of Pakistan National Physics Talent Contest (NPTC), an alumnus of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, a Fulbright alumnus, and the Pakistan National Point of Contact for Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). I was an invited speaker at the TEDxIslamabad event held in Nov., 2014. I've served as mentor in the NASA International Space App Challenge Islamabad events in April 2015 and April 2016.

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