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BlackMarbleR is a R package that provides a simple way to use nighttime lights data from NASA’s Black Marble. Black Marble is a NASA Earth Science Data Systems (ESDS) project that provides a product suite of daily, monthly and yearly global nighttime lights. This package automates the process of downloading all relevant tiles from the NASA LAADS DAAC to cover a region of interest, converting and mosaicing the raw files (in HDF5 format) to georeferenced rasters.


The package can be installed via CRAN.


To install the development version from Github:

# install.packages("devtools")

Bearer Token

The function requires using a Bearer Token; to obtain a token, follow the below steps:

  1. Go to the NASA LAADS Archive
  2. Click “Login” (bottom on top right); create an account if needed.
  3. Click “See wget Download Command” (bottom near top, in the middle)
  4. After clicking, you will see text that can be used to download data. The “Bearer” token will be a long string in red.

After logging in, the below will show the bearer token in red instead of INSERT_DOWNLOAD_TOKEN_HERE. Sometimes, after logging in, the NASA website will redirect to another part of the website. To obtain the bearer token, just navigate to the NASA LAADS Archive after logging in.

NASA LAADS Bearer Token



Before downloading and extracting Black Marble data, we first load packages, define the NASA bearer token, and define a region of interest.

#### Setup
# Load packages

#### Define NASA bearer token

### ROI
# Define region of interest (roi). The roi must be (1) an sf polygon and (2)
# in the WGS84 (epsg:4326) coordinate reference system. Here, we use the
# getData function to load a polygon of Ghana
roi_sf <- gadm(country = "GHA", level=1, path = tempdir()) 

Make raster of nighttime lights

The below example shows making daily, monthly, and annual rasters of nighttime lights for Ghana.

### Daily data: raster for February 5, 2021
r_20210205 <- bm_raster(roi_sf = roi_sf,
                        product_id = "VNP46A2",
                        date = "2021-02-05",
                        bearer = bearer)

### Monthly data: raster for October 2021
r_202110 <- bm_raster(roi_sf = roi_sf,
                      product_id = "VNP46A3",
                      date = "2021-10-01", # The day is ignored
                      bearer = bearer)

### Annual data: raster for 2021
r_2021 <- bm_raster(roi_sf = roi_sf,
                    product_id = "VNP46A4",
                    date = 2021,
                    bearer = bearer)

Make raster of nighttime lights across multiple time periods

To extract data for multiple time periods, add multiple time periods to date. The function will return a SpatRaster object with multiple bands, where each band corresponds to a different date. The below code provides examples getting data across multiple days, months, and years.

#### Daily data in March 2021
r_daily <- bm_raster(roi_sf = roi_sf,
                     product_id = "VNP46A2",
                     date = seq.Date(from = ymd("2021-03-01"), to = ymd("2021-03-31"), by = "day"),
                     bearer = bearer)

#### Monthly aggregated data in 2021 and 2022
r_monthly <- bm_raster(roi_sf = roi_sf,
                       product_id = "VNP46A3",
                       date = seq.Date(from = ymd("2021-01-01"), to = ymd("2022-12-01"), by = "month"),
                       bearer = bearer)

#### Yearly aggregated data in 2012 and 2021
r_annual <- bm_raster(roi_sf = roi_sf,
                      product_id = "VNP46A4",
                      date = 2012:2021,
                      bearer = bearer)

Map of nighttime lights

Using one of the rasters, we can make a map of nighttime lights

#### Make raster
r <- bm_raster(roi_sf = roi_sf,
               product_id = "VNP46A3",
               date = "2021-10-01",
               bearer = bearer)

#### Prep data
r <- r |> terra::mask(roi_sf)

## Distribution is skewed, so log
r[] <- log(r[] + 1)

##### Map
ggplot() +
  geom_spatraster(data = r) +
  scale_fill_gradient2(low = "black",
                       mid = "yellow",
                       high = "red",
                       midpoint = 4.5,
                       na.value = "transparent") +
  labs(title = "Nighttime Lights: October 2021") +
  coord_sf() +
  theme_void() +
  theme(plot.title = element_text(face = "bold", hjust = 0.5),
  legend.position = "none")

Nighttime Lights Map

We can use the bm_extract function to observe changes in nighttime lights over time. The bm_extract function leverages the exactextractr package to aggregate nighttime lights data to polygons. Below we show trends in annual nighttime lights data across Ghana’s first administrative divisions.

#### Extract annual data
ntl_df <- bm_extract(roi_sf = roi_sf,
                     product_id = "VNP46A4",
                     date = 2012:2022,
                     bearer = bearer)

#### Trends over time
ntl_df |>
  ggplot() +
  geom_col(aes(x = date,
  y = ntl_mean),
  fill = "darkorange") +
  facet_wrap(~NAME_1) +
  labs(x = NULL,
       y = "NTL Luminosity",
       title = "Ghana Admin Level 1: Annual Average Nighttime Lights") +
  scale_x_continuous(labels = seq(2012, 2022, 4),
                     breaks = seq(2012, 2022, 4)) +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(strip.text = element_text(face = "bold"))

Nighttime Lights Trends

Workflow to update data

Some users may want to monitor near-real-time changes in nighttime lights. For example, daily Black Marble nighttime lights data is updated regularly, where data is available roughly on a week delay; same use cases may require examining trends in daily nighttime lights data as new data becomes available. Below shows example code that could be regularly run to produce an updated daily dataset of nighttime lights.

The below code produces a dataframe of nighttime lights for each date, where average nighttime lights for Ghana’s 1st administrative division is produced. The code will check whether data has already been downloaded/extracted for a specific date, and only download/extract new data.

# Create directories to store data
dir.create(file.path(getwd(), "bm_files"))
dir.create(file.path(getwd(), "bm_files", "daily"))

# Extract daily-level nighttime lights data for Ghana's first administrative divisions.
# Save a separate dataset for each date in the `"~/Desktop/bm_files/daily"` directory.
# The code extracts data from January 1, 2023 to today. Given that daily nighttime lights
# data is produced on roughly a week delay, the function will only extract data that exists;
# it will skip extracting data for dates where data has not yet been produced by NASA Black Marble.
bm_extract(roi_sf = roi_sf,
           product_id = "VNP46A2",
           date = seq.Date(from = ymd("2023-01-01"), to = Sys.Date(), by = 1),
           bearer = bearer,
           output_location_type = "file",
           file_dir = file.path(getwd(), "bm_files", "daily"))

# Append daily-level datasets into one file
file.path(getwd(), "bm_files", "daily") |>
  list.files(pattern = "*.Rds",
  full.names = T) |>
  map_df(readRDS) |>
  saveRDS(file.path(getwd(), "bm_files", "ntl_daily.Rds"))

Functions and arguments


The package provides two functions.

Both functions take the following arguments:

Required arguments

Optional arguments

If output_location_type = "file", the following arguments can be used:

Argument for bm_extract only

Black Marble Resources

For more information on NASA Black Marble, see: