Study: Artificial light harms ecosystem health

Artificial light at night isn’t just a health problem for those of us sitting in bed scrolling through Instagram instead of hitting the sack — it hurts entire outdoor ecosystems.

When the critters that live in and around streams and wetlands are settling into their nighttime routines, streetlights and other sources of illumination filter down through the trees and into their habitat, monkeying with the normal state of affairs, according to new research led by CFAES scientist Mažeika Sullivan.

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Students shine focus on light pollution

Light pollution is something rarely thought of. The Ohio State University has a light pollution problem with no university-sanctioned policy in place to address it. Our group believes there should be a policy or guideline in place with the goal of reducing light pollution on campus.

Simply put, light pollution is light shining beyond where it is intended to shine. The major examples on campus are the decorative “acorn” style light fixtures found on the Oval and along Woody Hayes drive and West Woodruff Avenue. These lights allow light to shine up and out, and do not direct it down where pedestrians are walking. This misuse of light wastes energy and money. Our group estimates there are as many as 500 of these fixtures on campus, which cost the university an estimated $33,000 per year in electricity costs alone.

Example of an "acorn" fixture: Notice the light is not directed in any fashion.

Light pollution affects us in many ways. One major concern at night is safety, and light pollution can actually make us less safe through too much bad light (i.e., glare). Another concern is the environment. Excessive lights can disrupt reproduction cycles and migration patterns in many species. Light pollution also decreases the body’s ability to produce melatonin, which is linked to sleep disorders and some forms of cancer.

Other universities such as the University of Texas and the University of Michigan are actively trying to reduce their light pollution by creating informative podcasts and designating land as “Dark Sky Preserves.”

Upon signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, OSU President Gordon Gee committed our campus to carbon neutrality. With a university policy in place that directly takes into account light pollution, we can begin to achieve this goal and create a safer and more environmentally friendly campus.

This graphic (courtesy of the Canadian Space Agency) shows "very bad" to "best" exterior lighting options.