Spectrometry of the Urban Lightscape

Small, Christopher

NASA’s Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth contains over 30,000 photos of ~2500 cataloged urban lightscapes (anthropogenic night light) taken from the International Space Station. A subset of over 100 of these multispectral DSLR photos are of sufficient spatial resolution, sharpness and exposure to be potentially useful for broadband spectral characterization of urban lightscapes. Spectral characterization of multiple urban lightscapes can provide a basis for quantifying intra and interurban variability in night light brightness, color and extent, as well as the potential for change analyses. A comparative analysis of simulated atmospheric transmissivity from the MODTRAN radiative transfer model indicates that the spectral slopes of transmissivity spectra are relatively insensitive model atmospheres, with variations in atmospheric path length and aerosol optical depth primarily affecting the bias of the spectrum rather than the slope. A mosaic of 18 intercalibrated, transmissivity-compensated RGB photos renders a spectral feature space bounded by four clearly defined spectral endmembers corresponding to white, yellow and red light sources, with brightness modulated by a dark background endmember. These four spectral endmembers form the basis of a linear spectral mixture model which can be inverted to provide estimates of the areal fraction of each endmember present within every pixel field of view. The resulting spectral feature spaces consistently show two distinct mixing trends extending from the dark endmember to flat spectrum (white–yellow) and warm spectrum (orange) sources. The distribution of illuminated pixels is strongly skewed toward a lower luminance background of warm spectrum street lighting with brighter lights, generally corresponding to point sources and major thoroughfares.


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Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Marine Geology and Geophysics
Published Here
September 2, 2022