17 Feb 2022
17 Feb 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal NHESS.

Uncovering the veil of night light changes in times of catastrophe

Vincent G. Schippers1 and Wouter J. W. Botzen1,2 Vincent G. Schippers and Wouter J. W. Botzen
  • 1Utrecht University School of Economics; Kriekenpitplein 21-22, 3584EC Utrecht, Netherlands
  • 2Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU Amsterdam; De Boelelaan 1111, 1081 HV Amsterdam, Netherlands

Abstract. Natural disasters have large social and economic consequences. However, adequate economic and social data to study subnational economic effects of these negative shocks are typically hard to come by especially in low-income countries. For this reason, the use of night light data is becoming increasingly popular in studies that aim to estimate the impacts of natural disasters on local economic activity. However, it is often unclear what observed changes in night lights represent exactly. In this paper, we examine how changes in night light emissions following a severe hurricane relate with local population, employment, and income statistics. We do so for the case of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the coastline of Lousiana and Mississippi in August 2005. Hurricane Katrina is an excellent case for this purpose since it is one of the biggest hurricanes in recent history in terms of human and economic impacts, made landfall in a country with high-quality sub-national socioeconomic data collection, and is covered extensively in the academic literature. We find that overall night light changes reflect the general pattern of direct impacts of Katrina as well as indirect impacts and subsequent population and economic recovery. Our results suggest that change in light intensity is mostly reflective of changes in resident population and the total number of employed people within the affected area, and less so but positively related to aggregate income and real GDP.

Vincent G. Schippers and Wouter J. W. Botzen

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on nhess-2022-23', Anonymous Referee #1, 10 Mar 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Vincent Schippers, 13 May 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on nhess-2022-23', Anonymous Referee #2, 12 Mar 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Vincent Schippers, 13 May 2022
  • RC3: 'Comment on nhess-2022-23', Anonymous Referee #3, 15 Mar 2022
    • AC3: 'Reply on RC3', Vincent Schippers, 13 May 2022

Vincent G. Schippers and Wouter J. W. Botzen

Vincent G. Schippers and Wouter J. W. Botzen


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Short summary
Researchers studying economic impacts of natural disasters increasingly use night light as a proxy for local economic activity, when socioeconomic data are unavailable. But often it is unclear what changes in light intensity represent in the context of disasters. We study this in detail for hurricane Katrina, and find a strong correlation with building damage and changes in population, employment, and GDP. We conclude that night light data are useful to study local impacts of natural disasters.