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Artificial lights are eating away at dark nights — and that's not a good thing

Earth is losing its darkness. A new study using satellite data finds that artificially lit surfaces around the world are spreading and growing brighter, producing more light pollution at night.
The findings, described in the journal Science Advances, track what researchers called a worrisome trend that has implications for the environment as well as human health.
“This is concerning, of course, because we are convinced that artificial light is an environmental pollutant with ecological and evolutionary implications for many organisms — from bacteria to mammals, including us humans — and may reshape entire social ecological systems,” Franz Holker of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, one of the study’s authors, said in a briefing.
Thanks to electric lights, outdoor lighting grew at a rate of 3% to 6% annually in the second half of the 20th century. While this has benefited human productivity and safety, it has come with a dark side: The night is no longer dark enough.Half of Europe and a quarter of North America have experienced seriously modified light-dark cycles, the study authors wrote, calling it a “widespread ‘loss of the night.’ ”
This light pollution can have serious consequences for living things, which have evolved in accordance with a natural day-night cycle, where the only major sources of light at night would have been the moon or more intermittent sources such as volcanoes, lightning, wildfires or auroras.
“From an evolutionary perspective, now, artificial light at night is a very new stressor,” Holker said. “The problem is that light has been introduced in places, times and intensities at which it does not naturally occur, and many organisms have had no chance to adapt to this new stressor.”
Read more at: Artificial lights are eating away at dark nights — and that’s not a good thing – LA Times

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The push to reclaim starry skies


Dark sky groups recommend “warmer” LED bulbs with an amber glow. They also push the use of dimmers, motion sensors and timers wherever they make sense.

Astronomers have preached the virtues of dark skies for years. Modern cities, they say, use way more artificial light in the evenings than necessary, much of it emanating into the sky where it does no good. So-called light pollution erases our view of stars and, to a degree, the wonder they bring at our place in the cosmos. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s population can’t see the Milky Way.
So how bad is the light pollution in California?

“It’s pretty bad,” said Sriram Murali, a Bay Area photographer who is making a film about astronomy and light pollution. “It’s not as bad as the East Coast, but definitely not as good as it is in the Midwest and Southwest.”

That’s been changing in the last five or so years, he added. A number of cities across California — from Davis to San Diego — have taken measures designed enhance the night sky.

By the end of this year, San Francisco is expected to finish converting roughly 18,500 of its sodium high-pressured streetlights to dark sky-compliant LED bulbs.

Read more at: California Today: The Push to Reclaim Starry Skies – The New York Times

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Western cities try to cut light pollution 


Research paper: The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness
International Dark Sky Association

The next best chance for Westerners to see shooting stars is coming soon, between April 16 and 25, when the Lyrids meteor shower, one of the oldest known, will streak across the sky after midnight. In May the Eta Aquariids arrive, followed by the Delta Aquariids in July, and then the most spectacular of the year — the Perseids, fast, bright meteors, up to 200 an hour during Aug. 12 to 13, and the Geminids, kid-friendly because they show up soon after dark, from Dec. 7 to 17.
But none of these, of course, will be visible without sufficiently dark skies.
For most of us, that will mean traveling far outside city limits to a place away from streetlights and other artificial illumination. But in some less-populated places, like High Country News’s western Colorado hometown of Paonia, the Milky Way’s glow can be seen on any clear night. That’s because Paonia is a tiny town in the high desert, with just 1,500 residents surrounded by public lands, orchards and farms.Map of North America’s artificial sky brightness.
Natural darkness is important for a lot more than just stargazing, though. It’s also vital to scientific astronomy studies, migrating birds and night-flying insects. And exposure to blue-rich light at night, from computer screens and outdoor LED lights, disrupts people’s sleep cycles and may even contribute to cancer. At its January meeting, the American Astronomical Society passed a resolution “affirming that access to a dark night sky is a universal human right, making quality outdoor lighting a worldwide imperative.”
Some bigger Western cities have put a lot of effort into curbing and redesigning their light usage so that they can have dark skies, too. Flagstaff, Arizona, passed the nation’s first dark-sky ordinance in 1958, to preserve starry conditions necessary for research at the Lowell Observatory.
That nearly six-decade-old effort seems to have paid off. Today, nighttime images captured by the National Park Service show that Flagstaff emits far less artificial light than other cities of its size. The 65,000-resident city uses sodium street lights. In contrast to LED lights, which save energy but produce bright blue and white light that washes out stars and planets, sodium lights emit a warm red-yellow light that doesn’t contribute much to overall sky glow. Flagstaff also banned commercial searchlights and shielded outdoor lights around schools and shopping centers. In 2001, it became the world’s first international dark-sky city, as designated by the nonprofit International Dark-Sky Association.
Read more at: Western cities try to cut light pollution — High Country News

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Winery projects moving forward in Sonoma Valley off Highway 12


A Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA) survey tallying an influx of tasting rooms and special events permitted in Sonoma Valley found that since 2004 the county has given new and existing wineries permission to hold nearly 300 additional events in the valley.
Link to VOTMA 2014 survey

Two stalled winery projects along a scenic section of Highway 12 outside Santa Rosa could break ground as soon as this year following the $1.4 million sale of one of the properties.
The wineries, slated for neighboring parcels on the north side of Highway 12, with views of nearby Hood Mountain and Annadel State Park, were approved in 2012 and 1999 by a county zoning board. The projects drew little public scrutiny at the time, but their advancement now has raised concerns in Sonoma Valley about the additional traffic, noise and other impacts the adjacent businesses could generate.
The worries reflect not just the outlook of some neighbors — Oakmont sits directly across the highway and Kenwood is just to the east — but the escalating Wine Country debate about the expansion of wineries, and especially those that double as event centers, into rural pockets of Sonoma County.
Read more at: Winery projects moving forward in Sonoma Valley off | The Press Democrat

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Santa Rosa turns darkened streetlights back on with new high-efficiency LED bulbs

In the dark days of Santa Rosa’s budget crisis, one of the most visible signs of the city’s financial challenges was its decision to turn off thousands of the city’s streetlights.
Between 2009 and 2013, the city either switched off or limited the run time of approximately 4,700 streetlights throughout Santa Rosa, nearly a third of the 15,500 in the city.
It was a controversial program, one that, despite saving the city more than $300,000 per year, was scaled back from its original goal of darkening 10,000 lights following pressure from residents and council members concerned about safety issues.
Now that the city’s budget picture has brightened significantly, it has committed to turn back on all 3,400 lights that were switched off and all 1,300 lights that were placed on timers, which automatically turned the lights off between midnight and 5:30 a.m.
The goal is to have all those lights back on by June 2016, an aggressive target that the City Council funded with an additional $600,000 from a mid-year budget surplus.
Read more via: Santa Rosa turns darkened streetlights back on | The Press Democrat