Since the introduction of electric lighting over a century ago, and particularly in the decades following the Second World War, indications of artificial light on the nighttime Earth as seen from Earth orbit have increased at a rate exceeding that of world population growth during the same period. Modification of the natural photic environment at night is a clear and imminent consequence of the proliferation of anthropogenic light at night into outdoor spaces, and with this unprecedented change comes a host of known and suspected ecological consequences. In the past two decades, the conservation community has gradually come to view light pollution as a threat requiring the development of best management practices. Establishing those practices demands a means of quantifying the problem, identifying polluting sources, and monitoring the evolution of their impacts through time. The proliferation of solid-state lighting and the changes to source spectral power distribution it has brought relative to legacy lighting technologies add the complication of color to the overall situation. In this paper, I describe the challenge of quantifying light pollution threats to ecologically-sensitive sites in the context of efforts to conserve natural nighttime darkness, assess the current state of the art in detection and imaging technology as applied to this realm, review some recent innovations, and consider future prospects for imaging approaches to provide substantial support for darkness conservation initiatives around the world.
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