Artificial light means Earth is starting to 'lose night'

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The researchers say that the biological impact of surging artificial light is significant, which can lead to anything from disturbed sleep in humans and animals alike to disruptions in migration and reproduction of birds, fish, amphibians, insects and bats.

The growth "is disappointing because we might have hoped that the growing availability of highly efficient, solid-state LED lighting technologies might contribute to a decrease in energy usage worldwide", said Kip Hodges, a professor of earth and space exploration at Arizona State University and an editor at Science Advances. Light affects our body clocks and affects our sleeping patterns, and a lack of sleep is known to make us more susceptible to a range of health problems including diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression.

Rather, it's that people keep installing more and more lights, he told reporters on a conference call to discuss the research. "We'll light something that we didn't light before, like a bicycle path though a park or a section of highway leading outside of town that in the past wasn't lit", said physicist and lead author Chris Kyba. It used data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite Day-Night Band instrument, mounted on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Suomi-NPP satellite, which has been in orbit since 2011.

However, researchers pointed out that the light pollution problem is actually worse than that.

Asia, Africa and parts of South America have also seen a surge in night lighting, with more and more places installing outdoor lighting - given its low cost and the overall growth in communities' wealth.

Declines in lighting were rare, but were noticeable in war-torn places like Syria and Yemen.

Increase in night light
Increase night light between 2012 and 2016 Carla Schaffer AAAS

But even though Milan, for example, made the switch to LED lights and saw a drop in radiance over the 2012-2016 period, there were increases elsewhere in Italy. In many cases, cities expand into new areas, causing their edges (which were previously only partly urbanized) to become brighter.

The researchers said the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite data may understate the situation because its sensor can not detect some of the LED lighting that is becoming more widespread, specifically blue light. In what could illuminate the extent of light pollution in the country, artificially lit areas at night across India has increased by 33% between 2012 and 2016 - a rise of 7.4% per year, revealed the first-ever calibrated satellite radiometer designed for night lights. Study co-author Franz Holker of the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries said nighttime light has "ecological and evolutionary implications for many organisms from bacteria to mammals, including us humans, and may reshape entire social ecological systems".

Seeing the big picture from above, he added, "completely changed how I use light at night".

"The fact that the median country's 15 percent increase in lighting from 2012 to 2016 almost matched the median 13 percent increase in GDP suggests that outdoor light use remains subject to a large rebound effect on the global scale", according to the study. "Continuously lit areas brightened at a rate of 2.2 percent per year", according to the study.

Artificial light, especially during nights, is an environmental pollutant and is harmful to nocturnal creatures, including vertebrates, invertebrates, plants and even microorganisms.

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