This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Using Nighttime Lights Satellite Imagery to Track the Syrian War

It has been well established that nighttime lights derived from satellite imagery can be used to provide estimates of population settlements and to estimate the socioeconomic status of such places. The data come from NOAA's Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Operational Linescan System and one of the more innovative uses has been to sort out the spatial nature of the conflict in Syria. Two Chinese researchers have just published a paper in the International Journal of Remote Sensing in which they are able to conclude that:
This study provides a primary analysis on the response of night-time light to the Syrian Crisis. For the country and all provinces, the night-time light experienced a sharp decline as the crisis broke out. We found that most of the provinces lost >60% of the night-time lights and the lit areas because of the war, and the amount of the night-time light loss is correlated to the number of IDPs. We also find that the international border of Syria is a boundary to the night-time light variation patterns, reproving that the administrative border has the effect of socioeconomic discontinuity.
As this research only provides a primary evaluation of the night-time light data for the Syrian crisis, more information can be discovered by the use of night-time light images in future studies. For example, night-time light variations in control zones of different groups, including the Assad regime, Free Syrian Army, Kurds, and the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams, can be investigated to evaluate humanitarian situations in these regions. Additionally, by the use of night-time light images, we can also study how the Syrian Civil War has spread to Iraq, where the Islamic State of Iraq and al Shams is now the global focus.
In Lebanon, we might expect that the lights are a bit brighter now than before, as Syrians cram into refugee camps that previously had been largely occupied by Palestinians. Unfortunately, even assuming some change in lights, it seems that misery is simply being compounded as Syrians flee the fighting--with no obvious end in sight.

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