Aerial Survey and Spatial Analysis of Sources of Light Pollution in Berlin, Germany

Remote Sensing of EnvironmentRemote Sensing of Environment, Volume 126, November 2012, Pages 39–50

Helga U. Kuechly, Christopher C.M. Kyba, Thomas Ruhtz, Carsten Lindemann, Christian Wolter, Jürgen Fischer, and Franz Hölker


  • A 391 square kilometer urban light pollution map is produced with 1 m resolution.
  • Geospatial analysis of the map compares lighting to land use type.
  • Lighting associated with streets accounts for 1/3 of the total zenith uplight.
  • Land use types of differing areas are compared equivalently using mean brightness.
  • The utility of night aerial photography for light pollution studies is demonstrated.

“Aerial observations of light pollution can fill an important gap between ground based surveys and nighttime satellite data. Terrestrially bound surveys are labor intensive and are generally limited to a small spatial extent, and while existing satellite data cover the whole world, they are limited to coarse resolution. This paper describes the production of a high resolution (1 m) mosaic image of the city of Berlin, Germany at night. The dataset is spatially analyzed to identify the major sources of light pollution in the city based on urban land use data. An area-independent ‘brightness factor’ is introduced that allows direct comparison of the light emission from differently sized land use classes, and the percentage area with values above average brightness is calculated for each class. Using this methodology, lighting associated with streets has been found to be the dominant source of zenith directed light pollution (31.6%), although other land use classes have much higher average brightness. These results are compared with other urban light pollution quantification studies. The minimum resolution required for an analysis of this type is found to be near 10 m. Future applications of high resolution datasets such as this one could include: studies of the efficacy of light pollution mitigation measures, improved light pollution simulations, economic and energy use, the relationship between artificial light and ecological parameters (e.g. circadian rhythm, fitness, mate selection, species distributions, migration barriers and seasonal behavior), or the management of nightscapes. To encourage further scientific inquiry, the mosaic data is freely available at Pangaea:”