Friday, 14 Aug, 2009 Technology

Night-time Images Could Be Used to Analyze Economies


According to American economists, night-time pictures taken from space could be used to carry out a better analysis of the economies of the least developed countries.

The economists came up with a method of estimating changes of GDP by analyzing the intensity of street lights as well as other types of lighting. Together with his colleagues from the Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, David Weil analyzed the information on night-time light intensity gathered from satellites in 11 years and compared it with GDP estimates. Thus he managed to develop a method that allows calculating changes in GDP using only the measurements of light.

However, when the method is used for distant locations, it can bring doubts. For example, according to the World Bank estimates, the GDP in the Democratic Republic of Congo decreased by 2.6 percent in the period between 1992 and 2003, while Weil's method shows a 2.4 percent increase. The researcher said: "That inclines me to think that the Congo's problems are with its statistical information, not its economy." Find more interesting information here at, check the links at the bottom of the story.

By analyzing both conventional data and light measurements, it would be possible to make more accurate calculations of GDP. But according to Weil, scientists have to focus more on the connection between economic activity and light intensity and better analyze the link. For instance, a country has a poor economy but the level of population increases - this leads to increase in light intensity but does not contribute to the development of the economy. It will also be important to analyze such connection in the developing countries, reports New Scientist.

If economists manage to eliminate the current issues, such method could turn into a valuable source of data. Now scientists at NASA are working on the development of a Nightsat, a satellite that would be able to take hi-res images of light emitted from densely populated regions. Such technology could provide even more valuable information for the economists.

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