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Exploring economic activity from outer space: A Python notebook for processing and analyzing satellite nighttime lights


  • Carlos Mendez

    (Nagoya University)

  • Ayush Patnaik

    (xKDR Forum)


Nighttime lights (NTL) data are widely recognized as a useful proxy for monitoring national, subnational, and supranational economic activity. These data offer advantages over traditional economic indicators such as GDP, including greater spatial granularity, timeliness, lower cost, and comparability between regions regardless of statistical capacity or political interference. However, despite these benefits, the use of NTL data in regional science has been limited. This is in part due to the lack of accessible methods for processing and analyzing satellite images. To address this issue, this paper presents a user-friendly geocomputational notebook that illustrates how to process and analyze satellite NTL images. First, the notebook introduces a cloud-based Python environment for visualizing, analyzing, and transforming raster satellite images into tabular data. Next, it presents interactive tools to explore the space-time patterns of the tabulated data. Finally, it describes methods for evaluating the usefulness of NTL data in terms of their cross-sectional predictions, time-series predictions, and regional inequality dynamics.

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  • Carlos Mendez & Ayush Patnaik, 2023. "Exploring economic activity from outer space: A Python notebook for processing and analyzing satellite nighttime lights," Working Papers 21, xKDR.
  • Handle: RePEc:anf:wpaper:21

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. J. Vernon Henderson & Adam Storeygard & David N. Weil, 2012. "Measuring Economic Growth from Outer Space," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 102(2), pages 994-1028, April.
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