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Mapping Lightscapes: Spatial Patterning of Artificial Lighting in an Urban Landscape

08.05.2013 07:42

University of Birmingham News Release Issued: 3rd May 2013


England by nightUniversity of Birmingham News Release

Issued: 3rd May 2013 
Embargoed:  2200 hours, BST, 6th May 2013.

Manufacturing areas
are lighting up the City 

Manufacturing areas in the city of Birmingham, which represent only a small percentage of the city’s land area, are contributing significantly to urban lighting, according to research carried out by University of Birmingham environmental scientists published in the journal PLOS ONE today (Monday 6th May  2013).

The researchers carried out the study by analysing urban lighting using the finest resolution photographs ever taken of an entire city at night.  They converted the aerial photographs into maps of lamp locations and surface illuminance.  

They undertook the research to find out which land uses tended to be most heavily lit and which were responsible for the most lighting at the city scale.  They found that roads and car parks within housing and manufacturing areas were responsible for the majority of bright lighting in the city. 

Bright outdoor lighting is often desirable, as it can bring a range of benefits such as safety and security, but there are financial implications in adopting this as a widespread policy.   Moreover, studies have also shown that it can cause a nuisance and have an impact on wildlife and human health.  These costs and benefits can be highly context dependent and it is hoped that aerial night photography may help these to be balanced at a very local scale. 

James Hale, researcher at the University of Birmingham’s School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and lead author of the study, said: ‘Most city lighting is associated with roads and car parks – street lighting in residential areas and security lighting in manufacturing areas - but we didn’t expect the lighting in manufacturing areas to be so important to the total contribution as they represent a small percentage of Birmingham’s land area.’

The researchers recommend that anyone managing city lighting or trying to reduce unnecessary lighting should broaden their focus from residential street lighting to include security lighting within manufacturing areas.  Mr Hale continued: ‘We started this research project to find out what kind of lighting exists in the city, and where the brightest areas are - it would be impossible to ensure we have the most beneficial lighting at the city scale, with the least impacts, without doing a comprehensive survey. 

The researchers also found that lighting was greatest in heavily built up areas and that the most brightly lit land was found in retail, distribution, office and servicing land use zones.  A shift to denser cities with service-based economies might therefore result in increased levels of urban lighting. 

Notes to Editors

  1. For more information visit
  2. The paper can be downloaded on the 6th May 2200 hours, BST from, but until then is available from the Press Office.
  3. Data collection was funded by the Birmingham Environmental Partnership
  4. The analysis was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. 
  5. The aerial night photography was collected by the Environment Agency. 
  6. Pictures of the city at night are available from the press office for use in articles about this research, but are copyright of the Environment Agency 2009.
  7. A video that explores some of these images is also available here
  8. This research project does not investigate whether the lighting recorded in the survey is beneficial or not, and it is not a study about or to ascertain levels of light pollution


For further information

Kate Chapple, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164.  

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