The nights of European cities are getting a little darker: In the wake of the energy crisis, many urban centers are turning off the lights on hundreds of monuments and public buildings. This is shown by Europe’s first color map of light pollution, obtained thanks to more than a million images taken since 2003 by European Space Agency (ESA) astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The map developed by researchers led by the University of Exeter in Britain published However, the finding in Science Advances shows, in the past decade, a marked increase in light pollution in urban areas and a shift towards whiter and bluer emissions, due to the prevalence of LED lights.
“Without the photos taken by the astronauts, we will go blind with regard to the environmental impact of the transition to LED technology,” comments Alejandro Sanchez de Miguel, head of the studio. “The images are like a tumor scan, or a fluorescent spider web.”
In Italy and the United Kingdom, there has been a sharp increase in light pollution: Milan was in fact the first city in Europe to completely convert street lighting to white LEDs. On the other hand, other countries, such as Germany and Austria, are showing less severe change, but by the end of this decade all of Europe could appear white from space. On the other hand, Belgium and the Netherlands still stand out for their golden glow, thanks to the widespread use of sodium lamps.
According to the researchers, the transition to white and blue light radiation also alters the natural night cycles across the continent: “When we turn on street lights, we deprive our bodies of the hormone melatonin – as Sanchez de Miguel explains – and interrupt our natural sleep rhythm.” In addition, the whiter lights have a direct effect on the ability to move and interact with various nocturnal animals, including insects and bats.
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