The Growth of Light Pollution

Light pollution is defined as the changing of natural light levels in nocturnal landscapes (nightscapes) through artificial lighting sources (Falchi et al. 2011; Kyba and Hölker 2013). Here, we focus on ecological light pollution, i.e. the direct ecological effects of light as opposed to astronomical light pollution, which describes the light that disrupts viewing of stars and other celestial matter (Longcore and Rich 2004). Ecological light pollution can be caused by glare (extreme contrasts between bright and dark areas), over-illumination, light clutter (unnecessary numbers of light sources), light trespass (unwanted light) and skyglow, where artificial light is directed towards the sky, scattered by atmospheric molecules and reflected back to earth (Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 2009; Gaston et al. 2012; Kyba and Hölker 2013).

Artificial lighting has increased as a result of urbanisation, population growth, economic development and advances in lighting technologies and provides numerous economic, commercial, recreational and security benefits (Riegel 1973; Hölker et al. 2010a; Davies et al. 2012). However, light pollution is now of global concern: the accelerated use of electric lighting, growing at 6 % per year, has escalated light pollution to threat status (Hölker et al. 2010a, b). Satellite images suggest that 19 % of the global land surface surpassed the threshold for acceptable lighting levels (Cinzano et al. 2001). However, satellites are unable to capture all illumination from light sources (Bennie et al. 2014). While light pollution is currently more apparent in developed nations (Fig. 7.2), projected increases in industrial and urban growth suggest that light pollution will become more spatially heterogeneous both locally and regionally (Cinzano et al. 2001; Gaston et al. 2012; Hölker et al. 2010b; Bennie et al. 2014).

In the UK, street lighting consumes approximately 114 Twh of energy annually (International Energy Agency 2006) and is growing at 3 % per annum (Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution 2009). The number of lighting installations is increasing (Gaston et al. 2012), and the change in emissions due to increased use of broad spectrum technologies is also likely to affect light pollution as these sources emit higher levels of blue light. This scatters more into the atmosphere than green or red light, ultimately making a bigger contribution to skyglow (Benenson et al. 2002; Falchi et al. 2011; Kyba and Hölker 2013). The growth in light pollution will be further exacerbated because, as LEDs become cheaper, non-essential uses, such as advertising and architectural lighting, may increase (Schubert and Kim 2005).

Fig. 7.2 Artificial lighting is currently most widespread in the developed world. Global use of lighting at night in 2000. From NASA Earth Observatory/NOAA NGDC (2012)

 
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