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Special Issue "Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions"

A special issue of Remote Sensing (ISSN 2072-4292). This special issue belongs to the section "Urban Remote Sensing".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (30 September 2021) | Viewed by 14919

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A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.

Special Issue Editor

Dr. Nataliya Rybnikova
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
1. Department of Mathematics, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK
2. Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
3. Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Haifa, Haifa, Israel
Interests: artificial light at night (ALAN); economic development; primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary economic activities; urban boundaries delineation

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Studying and managing regional economic development in the current globalization era demands prompt, reliable, and comparable estimates for regions’ economic performance.

Night-time lights (NTL), emitted from residential areas, entertainment places, industrial facilities, etc., and captured by satellites, have become an increasingly recognized proxy for on-ground human activities. Compared to traditional indicators supplied by statistical offices, NTL may have several advantages. First, NTL data are available all over the world, providing researchers and official bodies with the opportunity to get the estimates even for the regions with extremely poor reporting practices. Second, in contrast to non-standardized traditional reporting procedures, the unified NTL data remove the problem of inter-regional comparability. Finally, NTL data are currently globally available on a daily basis, which makes it possible to obtain the estimates promptly.

In this Special Issue, we welcome contributions demonstrating the potential and efficiency of using NTL data as a proxy for the economic performance of regions.

Dr. Nataliya Rybnikova
Guest Editor

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Remote Sensing is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 2500 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • Night-time lights (NTL)
  • Artificial light at night (ALAN)
  • Economic well-being
  • Economic growth
  • Economic structure
  • Income inequality
  • Poverty
  • Urban extent

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Editorial

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Editorial
Everynight Accounting: Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions
Remote Sens. 2022, 14(4), 825; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs14040825 - 10 Feb 2022
Viewed by 394
Abstract
Artificial nighttime lights, emitted from residential, industrial, commercial and entertainment areas, and captured by satellites, have proven to be a reliable proxy for on-ground human activities [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)

Research

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Article
Estimating Local Inequality from Nighttime Lights
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(22), 4624; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13224624 - 17 Nov 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1175
Abstract
Economic inequality at the local level has been shown to be an important predictor of people’s political perceptions and preferences. However, research on these questions is hampered by the fact that local inequality is difficult to measure and systematic data collections are rare, [...] Read more.
Economic inequality at the local level has been shown to be an important predictor of people’s political perceptions and preferences. However, research on these questions is hampered by the fact that local inequality is difficult to measure and systematic data collections are rare, in particular in countries of the Global South. We propose a new measure of local inequality derived from nighttime light (NTL) emissions data. Our measure corresponds to the local inequality in per capita nighttime light emissions, using VIIRS-derived nighttime light emissions data and spatial population data from WorldPop. We validate our estimates using local inequality estimates from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) for a sample of African countries. Our results show that nightlight-based inequality estimates correspond well to those derived from survey data, and that the relationship is not due to structural factors such as differences between urban and rural regions. We also present predictive results, where we approximate the (survey-based) level of local inequality with our nighttime light indicator. This illustrates how our approach can be used for new cases where no other data are available. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Lifting of International Sanctions and the Shadow Economy in Iran—A View from Outer Space
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(22), 4620; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13224620 - 17 Nov 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1070
Abstract
With the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2016, Iran experienced a short period without international sanctions which resulted in an annual increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) in the following two years. However, it was not just [...] Read more.
With the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2016, Iran experienced a short period without international sanctions which resulted in an annual increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) in the following two years. However, it was not just the formal economy that was affected by the sanctions. Previous studies have shown that sanctions can negatively affect the shadow (or informal) economy and may even have a larger impact on the informal economy than on the formal economy. Nighttime lights (NTL) data allow us to study shadow economy activities that are not reported in the official GDP. This study uses a panel of NTL (the DMSP/OLS and VIIRS/DNB harmonized dataset) from 1992 to 2018 for 31 Iranian provinces to investigate the association between the lifting of sanctions and the growth of the shadow economy. The empirical results suggest an increase in shadow economy activity with the lifting of sanctions while controlling for other drivers of informal activities. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Delineating Functional Urban Areas Using a Multi-Step Analysis of Artificial Light-at-Night Data
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(18), 3714; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13183714 - 17 Sep 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1153
Abstract
A functional urban area (FUA) is a geographic entity that consists of a densely inhabited city and a less densely populated commuting zone, both highly integrated through labor markets. The delineation of FUAs is important for comparative urban studies and it is commonly [...] Read more.
A functional urban area (FUA) is a geographic entity that consists of a densely inhabited city and a less densely populated commuting zone, both highly integrated through labor markets. The delineation of FUAs is important for comparative urban studies and it is commonly performed using census data and data on commuting flows. However, at the national scale, censuses and commuting surveys are performed at low frequency, and, on the global scale, consistent and comparable data are difficult to obtain overall. In this paper, we suggest and test a novel approach based on artificial light at night (ALAN) satellite data to delineate FUAs. As ALAN is emitted by illumination of thoroughfare roads, frequented by commuters, and by buildings surrounding roads, ALAN data can be used, as we hypothesize, for the identification of FUAs. However, as individual FUAs differ by their ALAN emissions, different ALAN thresholds are needed to delineate different FUAs, even those in the same country. To determine such differential thresholds, we use a multi-step approach. First, we analyze the ALAN flux distribution and determine the most frequent ALAN value observed in each FUA. Next, we adjust this value for the FUA’s compactness, and run regressions, in which the estimated ALAN threshold is the dependent variable. In these models, we use several readily available, or easy-to-calculate, characteristics of FUA cores, such as latitude, proximity to the nearest major city, population density, and population density gradient, as predictors. At the next step, we use the estimated models to define optimal ALAN thresholds for individual FUAs, and then compare the boundaries of FUAs, estimated by modelling, with commuting-based delineations. To measure the degree of correspondence between the commuting-based and model-predicted FUAs’ boundaries, we use the Jaccard index, which compares the size of the intersection with the size of the union of each pair of delineations. We apply the proposed approach to two European countries—France and Spain—which host 82 and 72 FUAs, respectively. As our analysis shows, ALAN thresholds, estimated by modelling, fit FUAs’ commuting boundaries with an accuracy of up to 75–100%, being, on the average, higher for large and densely-populated FUAs, than for small, low-density ones. We validate the estimated models by applying them to another European country—Austria—which demonstrates the prediction accuracy of 47–57%, depending on the model type used. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Nighttime Lights and County-Level Economic Activity in the United States: 2001 to 2019
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(14), 2741; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13142741 - 12 Jul 2021
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1355
Abstract
Nighttime lights (NTL) are a popular type of data for evaluating economic performance of regions and economic impacts of various shocks and interventions. Several validation studies use traditional statistics on economic activity like national or regional gross domestic product (GDP) as a benchmark [...] Read more.
Nighttime lights (NTL) are a popular type of data for evaluating economic performance of regions and economic impacts of various shocks and interventions. Several validation studies use traditional statistics on economic activity like national or regional gross domestic product (GDP) as a benchmark to evaluate the usefulness of NTL data. Many of these studies rely on dated and imprecise Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) data and use aggregated units such as nation-states or the first sub-national level. However, applied researchers who draw support from validation studies to justify their use of NTL data as a proxy for economic activity increasingly focus on smaller and lower level spatial units. This study uses a 2001–19 time-series of GDP for over 3100 U.S. counties as a benchmark to examine the performance of the recently released version 2 VIIRS nighttime lights (V.2 VNL) products as proxies for local economic activity. Contrasts were made between cross-sectional predictions for GDP differences between areas and time-series predictions of GDP changes within areas. Disaggregated GDP data for various industries were used to examine the types of economic activity best proxied by NTL data. Comparisons were also made with the predictive performance of earlier NTL data products and at different levels of spatial aggregation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
The Modified Normalized Urban Area Composite Index: A Satelliate-Derived High-Resolution Index for Extracting Urban Areas
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(12), 2350; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13122350 - 16 Jun 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 990
Abstract
The accurate and efficient extraction of urban areas is of great significance for better understanding of urban sprawl, built environment, economic activities, and population distribution. Night-Time Light (NTL) data have been widely used to extract urban areas. However, most of the existing NTL [...] Read more.
The accurate and efficient extraction of urban areas is of great significance for better understanding of urban sprawl, built environment, economic activities, and population distribution. Night-Time Light (NTL) data have been widely used to extract urban areas. However, most of the existing NTL indexes are incapable of identifying non-luminous built-up areas. The high-resolution NTL imagery derived from the Luojia 1-01 satellite, with low saturation and the blooming effect, can be used to map urban areas at a finer scale. A new urban spectral index, named the Modified Normalized Urban Areas Composite Index (MNUACI), improved upon the existing Normalized Urban Areas Composite Index (NUACI), was proposed in this study, which integrated the Human Settlement Index (HSI) generated from Luojia 1-01 NTL data, the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) from Landsat 8 imagery, and the Modified Normalized Difference Water Index (MNDWI). Our results indicated that MNUACI improved the spatial variability and differentiation of urban components by eliminating the NTL blooming effect and increasing the variation of the nighttime luminosity. Compared to urban area classification from Landsat 8 data, the MNUACI yielded better accuracy than NTL, NUACI, HSI, and the EVI-Adjusted NTL Index (EANTLI) alone. Furthermore, the quadratic polynomial regression analysis showed the model based on MNUACI had the best R2 and Root-Mean Square Error (RMSE) compared with NTL, NUACI, HSI, and EANTLI in terms of estimation of impervious surface area. It is concluded that MNUACI could improve the identification of urban areas and non-luminous built-up areas with better accuracy. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Nightlight as a Proxy of Economic Indicators: Fine-Grained GDP Inference around Chinese Mainland via Attention-Augmented CNN from Daytime Satellite Imagery
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(11), 2067; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13112067 - 24 May 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1455
Abstract
The official method of collecting county-level GDP values in the Chinese Mainland relies mainly on administrative reporting data and suffers from high costs of time, money, and human labor. To date, a series of studies have been conducted to generate fine-grained maps of [...] Read more.
The official method of collecting county-level GDP values in the Chinese Mainland relies mainly on administrative reporting data and suffers from high costs of time, money, and human labor. To date, a series of studies have been conducted to generate fine-grained maps of socioeconomic indicators from the easily accessed remote sensing data and achieved satisfactory results. This paper proposes a transfer learning framework that regards nightlight intensities as a proxy of economic activity degrees to estimate county-level GDP around the Chinese Mainland. In the framework, paired daytime satellite images and nightlight intensity levels were applied to train a VGG-16 architecture, and the output features at a specific layer, after dimensional reduction and statistics calculation, were fed into a simple regressor to estimate county-level GDP. We trained the model with data of 2017 and utilized it to predict county-level GDP of 2018, achieving an R-squared of 0.71. Furthermore, the results of gradient visualization confirmed the validity of the proposed framework qualitatively. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that county-level GDP values around the Chinese Mainland have been estimated from both daytime and nighttime remote sensing data relying on attention-augmented CNN. We believe that our work will shed light on both the evolution of fine-grained socioeconomic surveys and the application of remote sensing data in economic research. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Comparing Luojia 1-01 and VIIRS Nighttime Light Data in Detecting Urban Spatial Structure Using a Threshold-Based Kernel Density Estimation
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(8), 1574; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13081574 - 19 Apr 2021
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 1121
Abstract
Nighttime light (NTL) data are increasingly used in urban studies and urban planning owing to their strong connection with human activities, although the detection capacity is limited by the spatial resolution of older data. In the present study, we comparedthe results of extractions [...] Read more.
Nighttime light (NTL) data are increasingly used in urban studies and urban planning owing to their strong connection with human activities, although the detection capacity is limited by the spatial resolution of older data. In the present study, we comparedthe results of extractions of urban built-up areas using data obtained from the first professional NTL satellite Luojia 1-01 with a resolution of 130 m and the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS). We applied an analyzing framework combing kernel density estimation (KDE) under different search radii and threshold-based extraction to detect the boundary and spatial structure of urban areas. The results showed that: (1) Benefiting from a higher spatial resolution, Luojia 1-01 data was more sensitive in detecting new emerging urban built-up areas, thus better reflected the spatial structure of urban system, and can achieve a higher extraction accuracy than that of VIIRS data; (2) Combining with a proper threshold, KDE improves the extraction accuracy of NTL data by making use of the spatial autocorrelation of nighttime light, thus better detects the scale of the spatial pattern of urban built-up areas; (3) A proper searching radius for KDE is critical for achieving the optimal result, which was 1000 m for Luojia 1-01 and 1600 m for VIIRS in this study. Our findings indicate the usefulness of the KDE method in applying the upcoming high-resolution NTL data such as Luojia 1-01 data in urban spatial analysis and planning. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Intra-Urban Scaling Properties Examined by Automatically Extracted City Hotspots from Street Data and Nighttime Light Imagery
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(7), 1322; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13071322 - 30 Mar 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1166
Abstract
A country can be well-comprehended through its core cities. Similarly, we can learn about a city from its hotspots, as they manifest the concentration of urban infrastructures and human activities. Following this philosophy, this paper studies the intra-urban form and function from a [...] Read more.
A country can be well-comprehended through its core cities. Similarly, we can learn about a city from its hotspots, as they manifest the concentration of urban infrastructures and human activities. Following this philosophy, this paper studies the intra-urban form and function from a complexity science perspective by exploring the power law distribution of hotspot sizes and related socio-economic attributes. To detect hotspots, we rely on spatial clustering of geospatial big data sets, including street data from OpenStreetMap platform and nighttime light (NTL) data from the visible infrared imaging radiometer suite (VIIRS) imagery. Unlike conventional spatial units, which are imposed by governments or authorities (such as census block), the delineation of hotspots is done in a totally bottom-up manner and, more importantly, can help us examine precisely the scaling pattern of urban morphological and functional aspects. This results in two types of urban hotspots—street-based and NTL-based hotspots—being generated across 20 major cities in China. We find that Zipf’s law of hotspot sizes (both types) holds remarkably well for each city, as do the city-size distributions at the country level, indicating a statistically self-similar structure of geographic space. We further find that the urban scaling law can be effectively detected when using NTL-based hotspots as basic units. Furthermore, the comparison between two types of hotspots enables us to gain in-depth insights of urban planning and urban economic development. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Can Nighttime Satellite Imagery Inform Our Understanding of Education Inequality?
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(5), 843; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13050843 - 24 Feb 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1078
Abstract
Education is a human right, and equal access to education is important for achieving sustainable development. Measuring socioeconomic development, especially the changes to education inequality, can help educators, practitioners, and policymakers with decision- and policy-making. This article presents an approach that combines population [...] Read more.
Education is a human right, and equal access to education is important for achieving sustainable development. Measuring socioeconomic development, especially the changes to education inequality, can help educators, practitioners, and policymakers with decision- and policy-making. This article presents an approach that combines population distribution, human settlements, and nighttime light (NTL) data to assess and explore development and education inequality trajectories at national levels across multiple time periods using latent growth models (LGMs). Results show that countries and regions with initially low human development levels tend to have higher levels of associated education inequality and uneven distribution of urban population. Additionally, the initial status of human development can be used to explain the linear growth rate of education inequality, but the association between trajectories becomes less significant as time increases. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Article
Modeling Spatiotemporal Population Changes by Integrating DMSP-OLS and NPP-VIIRS Nighttime Light Data in Chongqing, China
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(2), 284; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13020284 - 15 Jan 2021
Cited by 14 | Viewed by 1278
Abstract
The sustained growth of non-farm wages has led to large-scale migration of rural population to cities in China, especially in mountainous areas. It is of great significance to study the spatial and temporal pattern of population migration mentioned above for guiding population spatial [...] Read more.
The sustained growth of non-farm wages has led to large-scale migration of rural population to cities in China, especially in mountainous areas. It is of great significance to study the spatial and temporal pattern of population migration mentioned above for guiding population spatial optimization and the effective supply of public services in the mountainous areas. Here, we determined the spatiotemporal evolution of population in the Chongqing municipality of China from 2000–2018 by employing multi-period spatial distribution data, including nighttime light (NTL) data from the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program’s Operational Linescan System (DMSP-OLS) and the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (NPP-VIIRS). There was a power function relationship between the two datasets at the pixel scale, with a mean relative error of NTL integration of 8.19%, 4.78% less than achieved by a previous study at the provincial scale. The spatial simulations of population distribution achieved a mean relative error of 26.98%, improved the simulation accuracy for mountainous population by nearly 20% and confirmed the feasibility of this method in Chongqing. During the study period, the spatial distribution of Chongqing’s population has increased in the west and decreased in the east, while also increased in low-altitude areas and decreased in medium-high altitude areas. Population agglomeration was common in all of districts and counties and the population density of central urban areas and its surrounding areas significantly increased, while that of non-urban areas such as northeast Chongqing significantly decreased. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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Other

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Erratum
Erratum: Liu et al. Nightlight as a Proxy of Economic Indicators: Fine-Grained GDP Inference around Chinese Mainland via Attention-Augmented CNN from Daytime Satellite Imagery. Remote Sens. 2021, 13, 2067
Remote Sens. 2021, 13(17), 3360; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13173360 - 25 Aug 2021
Viewed by 630
Abstract
The authors wish to make the following corrections to this paper [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Nighttime Lights as a Proxy for Economic Performance of Regions)
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