Biological and Environmental Research - Earth and Environmental System Sciences
Earth and Environmental System Modeling

Death of Darkness: Artificial Sky Brightness in the Anthropocene

Monday, December 12, 2016 - 08:00
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Many species (including ours) need darkness to survive and thrive yet light pollution in the anthropocene has received scant attention in Earth System Models (ESMs). Anthropogenic aerosols can brighten background sky brightness and reduce the contrast between skylight and starlight. These are both aesthetic and health-related issues due to their accompanying disruption of circadian rhythms. We quantify aerosol contributions to light pollution using a single-column night sky model, NiteLite, suitable for implementation in ESMs. NiteLite accounts for physiologcal (photopic and scotopic vision, retinal diameter/age), anthropogenic (light and aerosol pollution properties), and natural (surface albedo, trace gases) effects on background brightness and threshold visibility. We find that stratospheric aerosol injection contemplated as a stop-gap measure to counter global warming would increase night-sky brightness by about 25%, and thus eliminate last pristine dark sky areas on Earth. Our results suggest that ESMs incorporate light pollution so that associated societal impacts can be better quantified and included in policy deliberations.

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