Research Briefing | Jun 3, 2022

Estimating sub-national GDP from outer space

Estimating sub-national GDP from outer spaceSince the early 1990s, satellites orbiting the planet have been continuously recording the luminosity of the Earth’s surface at night. The resulting geospatial dataset contains the night light intensity of every square kilometre on the planet. These data provide great potential for economic analysis.

As part of our extensive analysis on regional economies across the world, we continue to explore novel approaches and innovative datasets to address gaps in traditional data sources. In this briefing, we discuss some potential uses for one such dataset: night-time light emissions measured from satellites.

What you will learn:

  • The GDP-night lights relationship is strongest in middle- and low-income countries, giving us another measure for economic activity in countries where official data can be unreliable, out of date, or even non-existent.
  • We have tested this technique widely, including to estimate China’s regional GDP growth and to create hyper-local GDP estimates in Brazilian cities. The results allow us to improve further our best-in-class local and regional GDP estimates.
  • Because night lights are consistently measured across the world, the data allow us to create totally customisable geographies, crossing regional or even international borders. 

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