, Volume 43, Issue 7, pp 969–979 | Cite as

A Thermodynamic Geography: Night-Time Satellite Imagery as a Proxy Measure of Emergy

  • Luca Coscieme
  • Federico M. Pulselli
  • Simone Bastianoni
  • Christopher D. Elvidge
  • Sharolyn Anderson
  • Paul C. Sutton


Night-time satellite imagery enables the measurement, visualization, and mapping of energy consumption in an area. In this paper, an index of the “sum of lights” as observed by night-time satellite imagery within national boundaries is compared with the emergy of the nations. Emergy is a measure of the solar energy equivalent used, directly or indirectly, to support the processes that characterize the economic activity in a country. Emergy has renewable and non-renewable components. Our results show that the non-renewable component of national emergy use is positively correlated with night-time satellite imagery. This relationship can be used to produce emergy density maps which enable the incorporation of spatially explicit representations of emergy in geographic information systems. The region of Abruzzo (Italy) is used to demonstrate this relationship as a spatially disaggregate case.


Emergy Night-time lights Geographic information systems Territorial systems Thermodynamic geography 



We deeply thank two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions which contributed to improve the quality of the paper.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luca Coscieme
    • 1
    • 3
  • Federico M. Pulselli
    • 1
  • Simone Bastianoni
    • 1
  • Christopher D. Elvidge
    • 2
  • Sharolyn Anderson
    • 3
  • Paul C. Sutton
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Ecodynamics Group, DEEPS Department of Earth Environmental and Physical SciencesUniversity of SienaSienaItaly
  2. 2.Earth Observation GroupNOAA National Geophysical Data CenterBoulderUSA
  3. 3.School of Natural and Built Environments, Barbara Hardy InstituteUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity of DenverDenverUSA

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