NASA Black Marble Product

PI - Miguel Román (NASA GSFC)
Product ATBDCo-Is: Zhuosen Wang (NASA GSFC/UMD), Qingsong Sun (UMASS-Boston), Virginia Kalb
User Guide(NASA GSFC), Andrew Molthan (NASA MSFC), Karen Seto (Yale University), Eleanor
Stokes (Yale University), Tom Oda (NASA GSFC/USRA), Edward Masuoka (NASA GSFC)

NASA Black Marble product development and refinement


Subset of Black Marble 2016 annual composite generated using the NASA VIIRS DNB algorithm. Click on image to see
full 3km resolution global image.

The Day/Night Band (DNB) detectors that are part of the Suomi-NPP Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) are pioneering a new generation of satellite products that provide global measurement of nocturnal visible and near-infrared light that are suitable for Earth science and climate studies. The VIIRS DNB's ultra-sensitivity in low-light conditions has allowed for the generation of new science-quality nighttime products due to significantly improved resolution and calibration compared to those provided previously by the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program's (DMSP) generation of nighttime lights imagery. These improvements have allowed for better monitoring of both the magnitude and signature of nighttime phenomena and anthropogenic sources of light emissions. The VIIRS Black Marble product has been used for global mapping of human activity patterns, such as tracking shipping and fishing vessels, flaring of waste natural gas, in addition to their application to humanitarian efforts, such as assessment of conflict-associated demographic changes and mapping impoverishment. The NASA Black Marble algorithm produces cloud-free imagery that have been corrected for atmospheric, terrain, lunar BRDF, thermal, and straylight effects. The corrected nighttime radiances, resulting in a superior retrieval of nighttime lights at short time scales and a reduction in background noise, enable quantitative analyses of daily, seasonal and annual variations.

Product Features

The NASA Black Marble Standard (500 m) product is being processed on a daily basis within 3-5 hours after acquisition. This enables both near-real time uses and long-term monitoring applications. Summaries of recent activities are available through the NASA Earth Observatory Earth at Night section. It is expected that the standard Black Marble product (i.e., Level 3 daily and multi-date formats) will be routinely available from the NASA LAADS DAAC by the end of 2018 (see the latest product release schedule here).


Black Marble HD 2016 annual composite generated using the NASA VIIRS DNB algorithm.
Click on image to see larger version.

To monitor nighttime patterns at finer scales, a new suite of higher-level Black Marble products are also being developed by the NASA VIIRS DNB team. The Black Marble HD product is generated through the synergistic use of the daily NASA Black Marble standard product with data from other earth observing satellites (e.g., Landsat-8, Sentinel-2) and ancillary data sources (street, building, and other GIS layers). In the near future, the increased level of detail provided by the Black Marble high definition (HD) product will allow scientists to differentiate different types of human activity patterns (e.g., from residential, commercial, industrial sectors) at the characteristic scale of urban processes (< 30m). In this sense, the Black Marble HD products could be used to monitor seasonal and long term changes in cities, while also enabling the assessment of specific sectors that are impacted by abrupt changes caused by disturbances in power delivery, such as those resulting from conflict, storms, earthquakes, and brownouts. Preliminary versions of the Black Marble HD product have been applied in conflict regions.

We expect the standard Black Marble product to be available at the LAADS DAAC late in 2018. There are 2012 and 2016 samples of global and regional Black Marble standard annual products available through the Earth Observatory web site. The Black Marble HD monthly product is experimental at this time. Potential science users be advised that when the products are released, they will still be Provisional (Collection V1.1) versions. Please bear in mind factors such as: (1) on-going changes to the VIIRS instrument calibration software and ancillary data sources, (2) residual striping and stray light artifacts that remain after on-orbit calibration, and (3) the performance of the VIIRS nighttime cloud mask.

Product Details and DAAC links

Product Name Product ID
NPP/VIIRS At-sensor TOA Nighttime Radiance Daily L3 Global 500m SIN Grid V001 VNP46A1
NPP/VIIRS Moonlight-adjusted Nighttime Lights Daily L3 Global 500m SIN Grid V001 VNP46A2


Validation Plan

The NASA VIIRS DNB Black Marble development team plans to meet performance specification goals by long-term stability monitoring of the entire VNP46 algorithm processing chain, including the fundamental (Level 1B) VIIRS DNB time series record, terrain-corrected geolocation, stray light correction, and calibration LUTs, and by performing global quality assessment, uncertainty quantification, and product validation. To assess progress, we have developed a series of benchmark tests to quantify product performance at representative spatial and temporal scales. This comprehensive suite of benchmark tests and assessment metrics are meant to ensure that variations in VNP46 product performance can be identified quickly, so that improvements can be implemented in a timely fashion.


Román, M.O., Wang, Z., Sun, Q., Kalb, V., Miller, S.D., Molthan, A., Schultz, L., Bell, J., Stokes, E.C., Pandey, B. and Seto, K.C.,
  et al. 2018. NASA's Black Marble nighttime lights product suite. Remote Sensing of Environment, 210, pp.113-143,   DOI:10.1016/j.rse.2018.03.017.