An improved index for urban population distribution mapping based on nighttime lights (DMSP-OLS) data: An experiment in Riyadh province, Saudi Arabia

Mohammed Alahmadi*, Shawky Mansour, David Martin, Peter Atkinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Knowledge of the spatial pattern of the population is important. Census population data provide insufficient spatial information because they are released only for large geographic areas. Nighttime light (NTL) data have been utilized widely as an effective proxy for population mapping. However, the well-reported challenges of pixel overglow and saturation influence the applicability of the Defense Meteorological Program Operational Line-Scan System (DMSP-OLS) for accurate population mapping. This paper integrates three remotely sensed information sources, DMSP-OLS, vegetation, and bare land areas, to develop a novel index called the Vegetation-Bare Adjusted NTL Index (VBANTLI) to overcome the uncertainties in the DMSP-OLS data. The VBANTLI was applied to Riyadh province to downscale governorate-level census population for 2004 and 2010 to a gridded surface of 1 km resolution. The experimental results confirmed that the VBANTLI significantly reduced the overglow and saturation effects compared to widely applied indices such as the Human Settlement Index (HSI), Vegetation Adjusted Normalized Urban Index (VANUI), and radiance-calibrated NTL (RCNTL). The correlation coefficient between the census population and the RCNTL (R = 0.99) and VBANTLI (R = 0.98) was larger than for the HSI (R = 0.14) and VANUI (R = 0.81) products. In addition, Model 5 (VBANTLI) was the most accurate model with R2 and mean relative error (MRE) values of 0.95% and 37%, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1171
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Land cover/use
  • Nighttime
  • NTL
  • Population
  • Riyadh
  • Saudi Arabia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)

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