Quantitative and accurate urban land information on regional and global scales is urgently required for studying socioeconomic and eco-environmental problems. The spatial distribution of urban land is a significant part of urban development planning, which is vital for optimizing land use patterns and promoting sustainable urban development. Composite nighttime light (NTL) data from the Defense Meteorological Program Operational Line-Scan System (DMSP-OLS) have been proven to be effective for extracting urban land. However, the saturation and blooming within the DMSP-OLS NTL hinder its capacity to provide accurate urban information. This paper proposes an optimized approach that combines NTL with multiple index data to overcome the limitations of extracting urban land based only on NTL data. We combined three sources of data, the DMSP-OLS, the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), and the normalized difference water index (NDWI), to establish a novel approach called the vegetation–water-adjusted NTL urban index (VWANUI), which is used to rapidly extract urban land areas on regional and global scales. The results show that the proposed approach reduces the saturation of DMSP-OLS and essentially eliminates blooming effects. Next, we developed regression models based on the normalized DMSP-OLS, the human settlement index (HSI), the vegetation-adjusted NTL urban index (VANUI), and the VWANUI to analyze and estimate urban land areas. The results show that the VWANUI regression model provides the highest performance of all the models tested. To summarize, the VWANUI reduces saturation and blooming, and improves the accuracy with which urban areas are extracted, thereby providing valuable support and decision-making references for designing sustainable urban development.
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