Sci-tech

Rise in energy-saving LED lighting has increased light pollution

Rise in energy-saving LED lighting has increased light pollution

"In the '70s. we wouldn't have thought to do that, because we'd think, 'That's insane expensive!' But now it's like, you can do this fantastic thing with LEDs". Then, filtered the data to check night brightness for the month of October between 2012 and 2016.

"We can say with fairly high confidence even though we didn't measure in the satellite an increase in these countries, they are almost certainly increasing in brightness in terms of how human beings would perceive the light", says Kyba.

Outdoor illumination grew at around 3 to 6 percent per year in the second half of the 20 century. While this has benefited human productivity and safety, it has come with a dark side: The night is no longer dark enough.

Suburban sprawl in the USA and other developed countries is gobbling up once dark, quiet expanses of land, while explosive growth in China has been producing entirely new cities in what was once empty countryside. He and some colleagues knew that a satellite launched in 2011 had a new instrument, one that gives scientists a more reliable way to measure how much brighter the world is getting.

Chart reflecting changes in artificially lit surface of Earth at night
Rise in energy-saving LED lighting has increased light pollution

The improvements in energy efficiency brought by LED street lights are clear.

The International Dark-Sky Association, based in Tucson, Arizona, has been highlighting the hazards of artificial night light for decades. "The issue is that light has been introduced in places, times and intensities at which it does not naturally occur and for many organisms, there is no chance to adapt to this new stressor".

That's a big problem, given that 30 percent of vertebrates and more than 60 percent of invertebrates are nocturnal, he pointed out. "It threatens biodiversity through changed night habits, such as reproduction or migration patterns, of many different species: insects, amphibians, fish, birds, bats and other animals". It damages humans' body clocks that heighten the risks of diabetes, depression, and cancer. Some sections have showcased a balanced development in light pollution affiliated with economic development, but more progressive countries that seem to get dark by interchanging to energy-saving LEDs showed no obvious decrease in their rates of light pollution.

Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences, lead author of the study said that it is a very startling fact about the rich well lit countries like the US. This is prevalent in the most heavily populated regions of the planet.

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For one thing, cloud cover meant some parts of the planet could be seen only intermittently.

These decreases in cost allow increased use of light in areas that were previously unlit, moderately lit, or lit only during the early evening hours.

A lot of the researchers' work thus involved teasing this misleading data out of their overall findings. On top of that, the outdoor areas that already had been lit when the study started in 2012 also brightened by 2.2 percent per year.

Light pollution is actually worse than that, according to the researchers. A growth in a region's gross domestic product of 13 per cent over the course of the observation period was reflected in a almost matching 15 per cent increase in night lighting.

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The rapid increase in night lighting has been a profound change, a kind of global experiment, that has happened in just the last 100 years."My mum, for example, grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, in a time before they had electrification", Kyba says.

And nature is paying a price.

A study published in 2016 said there was a correlation between increased lighting in beaches and a decline in sea turtle populations.

Vegetation is affected, too.

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