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Nighttime lights and population changes in Europe 1992–2012

Abstract

Nighttime satellite photographs of Earth reveal the location of lighting and provide a unique view of the extent of human settlement. Nighttime lights have been shown to correlate with economic development and population but little research has been done on the link between nighttime lights and population change over time. We explore whether population decline is coupled with decline in lighted area and how the age structure of the population and GDP are reflected in nighttime lights. We examine Europe between the period of 1992 and 2012 using a Geographic Information System and regression analysis. The results suggest that population decline is not coupled with decline in lighted area. Instead, human settlement extent is more closely related to the age structure of the population and to GDP. We conclude that declining populations will not necessarily lead to reductions in the extent of land development.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank the Faculty of Social Science, Lund University for support and our anonymous referees for valuable comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ola Hall.

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Archila Bustos, M.F., Hall, O. & Andersson, M. Nighttime lights and population changes in Europe 1992–2012. Ambio 44, 653–665 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-015-0646-8

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Keywords

  • Nighttime lights
  • Demographic transition
  • Population decline
  • Human settlement extent