Nighttime light remote sensing for urban applications: Progress, challenges, and prospects

Nighttime light (NTL) remote sensing data offer unique capabilities to characterize both the extent and intensity of human activities and have been extensively used to understand urbanization since 1992. The recent proliferation of NTL sensors, algorithms, and products creates new opportunities to understand contemporary urbanization and the associated socioeconomic and environmental changes. We conducted a comprehensive literature review of 688 peer-reviewed papers published between 1992 and 2022 to understand the trends in how NTL data have been used to study urbanization (e.g., with which data products, during which time span, and in which geographies) and to synthesize the progress and challenges of key urban application topics. Based on our review, we identified four research directions for future NTL-based urban applications: (1) a better understanding of scale effects and sources of variations in NTL data; (2) integrating multi-source NTL data and synergizing NTL data with other types of geospatial data for improved NTL utilization; (3) more research on the Global South; and (4) developing new urban applications with new NTL data products. Addressing research gaps in these areas will generate new insights into the urbanization process under different geographical and socioeconomic settings.

Future research directions in NTL-based urban applications

How to cite

Zheng, Q., Seto, K. C., Zhou, Y., You, S., & Weng, Q. (2023). Nighttime light remote sensing for urban applications: Progress, challenges, and prospects. ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, 202, 125-141. doi: