Mapping the Night

Most maps of night time lights show the land masses lit brightly by city lights. But the oceans are not as dark as these maps suggest. NOAA/NGDC datasets available through show very bright spots in the North Sea:

Night time lights trace the coast but illuminate the sea too.

The dataset description mentions that the sensors pick up moonlit clouds, lights from human settlements, fires, gas flares, heavily lit fishing boats, lightning and the aurora. So might these spots be fishing boats?

Update: As many comments have pointed out, bright spots in the seas show the locations of oil drilling rigs.

  1. Just a thought — those lights could be the extensive drilling infrastructure extracting crude oil from the North Sea.

    • underdark said:

      Good point! I’ll see if I can find a map of those.

  2. trustnoone said:

    Take a look at this.

    • underdark said:

      Great map and thanks for the other pointers!

      • The really interesting fact is that there seams to be no E-PRTR reports from German, Dutch and Danish oil rigs. Especially the Danish Gorm field is clearly visible in the DMSP data.

        I have reported that fact to the European DG Environment – Directorate half a year ago and they promised to take a look into it, but I haven’t hear anything about it since then.

  3. Like Kevin I had assumed these were drilling rigs. There are at least three different night-time light layers. As I understand it the stable lights include filters to remove moving lights such as boats, then the City Lights layer also remove the weaker lights <10%.

    Interestingly the night time lights dataset can also be used as an indicator of GDP. The EDENext Data team recently summarised this lights layer to NUTS2 to be used in this way. Read more about it at:

    Thankyou for attributing our site!

    • Thanks for the interesting information!

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