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Big Cities, Bright Lights: Ranking the Worst Light Pollution on Earth

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Chicago skyline on April 20, 2017. Chris Favero / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Dipika Kadaba

The amount of artificial lighting is steadily increasing every year around the planet. It's a cause for celebration in remote villages in Africa and the Indian sub-continent that recently gained access to electricity for the first time, but it is also harming the health and well-being of residents of megacities elsewhere that continue to get bigger and brighter every year.

Health impacts of this artificial illumination after daylight hours range from depression to cancer, including a range of sleep disorders.


A less tangible effect: 80 percent of people on Earth have lost their view of the natural night sky due to the overpowering glow of artificial lights.

The Revelator analyzed light pollution levels around the world, revealing the planet's worst affected cities as well as the most light-polluted metropolitan areas, where development is mixed and diffused over massive distances. The areas on our top 10 lists are all well above the global urban average, which you'd find in major American cities like Pittsburgh or Raleigh.

The results on the lists may surprise you. The brightest cities have large populations, of course, but in many areas lighting is also geographically or culturally influenced. For example, cities in northern latitudes, where the sun shines less, or in arid countries, where hot daytime sun inspires more evening activity, are often brightly lit. This means they can outshine the usual light-pollution suspects like New York and Tokyo.

Top 10 Brightest Metropolitan Areas Compared to the Global Urban Average

10. Miami, USA, 2.6 times brighter
9. Denver-Aurora, USA, 2.7 times brighter
8. Mexico City, Mexico, 2.8 times brighter
7. Detroit, USA, 2.9 times brighter
6. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 3.5 times brighter
5. Toronto, Canada, 3.6 times brighter
4. Chicago, USA, 4.5 times brighter
3. Montréal, Canada, 4.8 times brighter
2. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 6.7 times brighter
1. Moscow, Russia, 8.1 times brighter

Top 10 Brightest Cities Compared to the Global Urban Average

10. Tangier, Morocco, 5.3 times brighter
9. Helsinki, Finland, 5.9 times brighter
8. Medina, Saudi Arabia, 6.0 times brighter
7. Kazan, Russia, 6.1 times brighter
6. Edmonton, Canada, 6.5 times brighter
5. Calgary, Canada, 6.6 times brighter
4. Kuwait City, Kuwait, 7.0 times brighter
3. Chelyabinsk, Russia, 7.1 times brighter
2. Mecca, Saudi Arabia, 7.4 times brighter
1. Saint Petersburg, Russia, 8.1 times brighter

Light pollution isn't exclusive to the places on these lists. The problem is worldwide. Explore light pollution in this map of the world's highest populated urban areas and see how they compared to the global urban average.

dipika.carto.com

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Revelator.

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