Europe’s switch to LED lights is visible from space, scientists are concerned

Sep 20, 2022

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Europe’s switch to LED lights is visible from space, scientists are concerned

Sep 20, 2022

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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In an attempt to reduce energy consumption and make street lighting more environmentally friendly, Europe has been switching to LEDs in its street lights. However, it’s not necessarily a good choice, at least not in all aspects.

The switch to LEDs is already visible from space, as well as the light pollution they cause. Of course, it’s not only our photos and the view of the night sky that are being affected. As scientists warm, the increased use of LED lights will also mess with living creatures and their life cycles, including both animals and humans.

In a study published in Science Advances, a group of scientists published nighttime color maps they created from the ISS images of Europe. The maps were created for the periods between 2012 and 2013, and between 2014 and 2020. They display the before and after of the spread of LED street lights, showing us the changes in spectra of color and light intensity emissions.

According to the results, there has been a color shift as the lighting technology changed. White LED lights give away blue light compared to the high-pressure sodium lighting which gives away a yellowish glow. In addition, the light has become more intense with the implementation of LEDs.

So why is all of this concerning? Of course, the intense glow of the LED lights will affect the view of the night sky, making our nighttime photos even crappier than they are now. It makes it even more difficult to find a dark spot and take photos of the night sky.

But more importantly, light pollution affects sleep and life cycles in humans and animals, which could have major consequences. For humans, the blue light of LEDs inhibits the exposure of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy and that is naturally stimulated by being in the darkness just before sleep. And if you’ve ever been sleep deprived for longer periods of time, you know what it does to you.

Thankfully, we humans can at least use sleep masks, dark curtains, etc. to help us fall and stay asleep. But what about animals? They can’t just conclude “that’s just a street light, I won’t use it for navigation.” The use of LED lights can largely affect animals and their life cycles. “Many times the nighttime is the time to eat, pollinate, navigate, nest, or rest, and all those processes are disturbed by the artificial light,” says Alejandro Sánchez de Miguel, the lead author of the study. This kind of light pollution harms animals sometimes by exposing them to predators, “other times directly by messing up with their physiology,” Sánchez de Miguel explains.

But there are some upsides to the blueish tint of LEDs. Thomas Kilkenny of the Institute Sleep Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital said that it could be beneficial in some situations. “Blue light added to the streetlights may make people feel more awake when they are driving and decrease accidents,”he explains. But as I mentioned, the downside is the harm it could do to your sleep while you’re in your bed. “Sleep deprivation is already a major problem in society and in itself may lead to more traffic accidents, illnesses, depression, and lost time at work,” Kilkenny warns.

[via Popular Science; image credits: Sánchez de Miguel et al.]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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4 responses to “Europe’s switch to LED lights is visible from space, scientists are concerned”

  1. Camera operator Hong Kong Avatar
    Camera operator Hong Kong

    I hope the electricity price will keep going up and so intelligent lighting will be the answer.
    A light that emit 10% of its power when no one is there to turn on only when needed for a short period of time based on motion.

  2. Pașca Alexandru Avatar
    Pașca Alexandru

    But how’s worse now with the light pollution with leds than with the previous metal vapor hids???
    Led lights are actually more directive, putting light more where it’s needed.
    They can (not mandating they will, thanks to poor manufacturing) last way longer, use less energy, give off less heat and in many areas they are putting less light as to cut costs even more.

    LEDs are the best solution right now and pollute less than any other mean of illumination from all perspectives.

    BTW, there are places that cut street lights at midnight untill dawn to save more electricity. I really enjoy that! :)

    1. Drew Rick Avatar
      Drew Rick

      Different lamp designs and different colors, add the article reports.

      Lamp designs: LED are often very point-like with tiny but bright specks of light that you don’t want to look at. The design solution is to send the light upwards, with a diffusing mirror sending it back down. Inevitably, some light isn’t caught by the mirror, causing light pollution in the sky.

      Color: LED can be obtained with daylight white color rather than night time yellow or orange. As a result, this can upset the circadian rhythm of humans and wildlife, as the article reports. We depend on sunset red to get a sleep signal, and white light in the middle of the night sends our bodies the signal “wake up, it’s the middle of the day”, with measurable repercussions on insomnia and mental health.

  3. DIYP community member Avatar
    DIYP community member

    You can never please anyone…sigh. Oh, we are using too much energy. OK, we’ll use lower wattage LEDs that save tons of energy and provide good light. NOOOOO…the animals!!! THINK of the ANIMALS SLEEP!!! Morons.