Light pollution – impact on nature and our health

Light pollution is a term that refers to the excessive amount of artificial lighting emitted at night, which results in reduced visibility of the night sky. Sources of pollution include street lamps, building lighting, advertising billboards and cars. This is a problem that has a negative impact not only on the work of astronomers, but especially on wildlife and human health.

Effects of artificial light on nature

The simplest and well-known example of the effects of artificial light on nature are insects, such as moths, which, attracted by the glow, die of exhaustion or by contact with the hot lamp. The illumination of tall buildings causes the death of birds, especially migratory birds, which, disoriented by the flicker, collide with the glass or facade. In North America alone, which is home to many skyscrapers, it is estimated that nearly up to a billion wild birds die annually from these collisions. (Loss, Scott R., Will, Tom, Loss, Sara S., Marra, Peter P., Bird-building collisions in the United States: Estimates of annual mortality and species vulnerability, “The Condor,” vol. 116, 2014, pages 8-23) Neither can land or marine animals escape from pollution. The glow of cities and harbors causes newly hatched sea turtles to prefer to head for the waterfront instead of heading out to sea, and they die as a result. Even plants can’t cope with artificial light. Their diurnal cycle, called photoperiod, can be disrupted by nighttime lighting and negatively affect flowering, reproduction and growth.

Light pollution and health

Naturally, the human biological clock is also not adapted to spending long periods of time in artificial light. The human eye contains a sensitive photosensor, the main regulator of the diurnal rhythm. It is most sensitive to blue light – that is, the light emitted from all kinds of screens. Prolonged exposure to blue light, especially after dark, disrupts levels of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. Other effects of constantly being in areas with excessive light levels are headaches, stress, exhaustion or even anxiety. (Knez I., Effects of colour of light on nonvisual psychological processes, “Journal of Environmental Psychology, vol. 21, 2001, pages 210-208)

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Graphic showing light pollution source: