Tanzania from space, by night

Political patronage can be seen from space, according to a recent academic study. And elsewhere, the light given off at night by cities shows sharp discrepancies between neighbouring countries – South and North Korea and China, for example.

So what about Tanzania?

I found two sets of maps produced by NASA (the US space agency) and loaded onto Google Maps, for 2003 and 2012. Let’s take a look at 2012 first:

Tanzania night light map 2012

Tanzania night light map 2012

Next, the same image, overlaid with a more tradition map, so you can see what you’re looking at:

Tanzania night light map, 2012, overlayed with traditional map

Tanzania night light map, 2012, overlaid with traditional map

Google Maps has some anomalies – roads that I’m pretty sure don’t exist, and a new island just off the coast of Dar es Salaam – but you can at least see how patches of light match up with the bigger towns and cities.

There is one thing that’s very unclear, however. There’s a whole group of light sources in a wide area to the north-east of Songea / south-east of Iringa. It covers parts of Kilolo and Mufindi Districts in Iringa Region, Kilombero and Ulanga Districts in Morogoro, and Namtumbo and Tunduru Districts in Ruvuma. These are all predominantly rural districts containing only a few small towns.

So why the light sources? It can’t be either political patronage or economic activity – the scale is far too big. My guess is that it’s a problem with NASA’s satellite photos – that they have picked up some clouds (or something similar). I wonder whether that affected (clouded?) the academic research cited earlier?

Finally, one last map, this time comparing Tanzania’s night light sources in 2003 with 2012:

Tanzania night light maps 2003 and 2012

I can’t be sure that the comparison with 2012 is fair – maybe someone changed the satellite’s settings during those nine years? But it does look like Tanzania was emitting a lot more light by 2012 than it was in 2003. In 2003, only Dar es Salaam stood out clearly; by 2012 places like Arusha, Mwanza, Dodoma, Morogoro and Mbeya are also pretty strong sources. Of course, that assumes that they are not just clouds.

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Sources: Google Maps layers: Earth at Night 2012 and City Lights 2003

One thought on “Tanzania from space, by night

  1. Steve

    Fires are more likely to be the cause of additional light detected in rural areas, though even there it is odd that other parts of the country are not effected. Maybe it is a combination of two things: cloud cover meant relatively few night time images to analyse in that part of Tz, so the fires got added relative significance.

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