Qatar, Persian Gulf, at Night

Night lights can be very revealing regarding the distribution of people on the landscape. Here the lights of Qatar show the precise demographic geography of the country. The brightest group at image center shows the capital city Doha with the neighboring smaller ports of Ad-Dahira and Umm Sa'id to the north and south, respectively. Even highways and their relative importance can be discerned. Highways are clearly visible leading from the capital west to the Dukhan oil fields, to Saudi Arabia, and to the north of the country--where, judging by the lack of night lights, the population is very low. The relatively minor coast road between the oil fields and the Saudi frontier also stands out. This kind of highly informative human geographic detail is very difficult to discern in daylight images, in which even larger cities, especially in deserts, are hard to see.

Almost the entire island nation of Bahrain appears at lower left, with its capital city Manama nearly as bright as the lights of Doha. The difference in light intensity reflects a difference in population--Doha has 1.45 million inhabitants, while the very dense Manama metro area has a population of 1.2 million.

While some night views are highly informative about a landscape, they can also be difficult and confusing to locate. Astronauts learn to recognize where they are at night by flying over populated places repeatedly, even though coastlines--one of their best geographic indicators--are generally lost to view because water surfaces and unpopulated land surfaces look the same without illumination (such as from a full moon). Thus the thumb-shaped Qatari peninsula, so well-known in Middle Eastern geography, cannot be discerned at all in this night image.

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