The Two Koreas: Like Night and Day

By Tom Yulsman | March 31, 2013 2:10 am

The Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, or VIIRS, on the Suomi NPP satellite captured this nighttime view of the Korean Peninsula on Sept. 24, 2012. North Korea is notable in its lack of lights. (Image: NASA Earth Observatory)

As North Korea ratchets up its rhetoric, going so far as to say that the Korean Peninsula is now in a “state of war,” and reports of cyberattacks on North Korean web sites trickle in, the nighttime image above from the SUOMI NPP satellite shows the essential context behind the bluster.

South Korea is lit up like a Christmas tree at night. Meanwhile, except for the faint smudge of light coming from North Korea’s capitol of Pyongyang, the country is almost completely dark.

In fact, as of 2011, South Korea ranked 12th in the world in electricity production, according to the CIA World Fact Book. In contrast, North Korea ranked 71st (as of 2009). This is not at all surprising when you consider that with a GDP of about $1.6 trillion, the south is 13th in the world, whereas the North’s GDP of a paltry $40 billion means it is 103rd.

As I write this early Sunday morning, U.S. officials are downplaying the risks, with one being quoted as saying that “North Korea is not going to war.” But the story told by this stark remote sensing image has got to make you wonder how much longer such a dichotomy can last.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Miscellaneous, Remote Sensing
  • Mark Cunnington

    Ironically, N Korea seems to be on a better path to sustainability than is the rest of the world. Since 97% of the world’s energy supply comes from burning carcasses of dead things that used to be alive, and since we currently burn about 10 times more dead things than the world can sustainably provide, we shouldn’t be so smug about the majority of the world’s profligate waste of non-renewable resources and shameful lack of effort in pursuing alternatives.

    • JonFrum

      If North Korea is your idea of sustainability, you can keep it.I would suggest that at this rate, they will have starved every last one of their people long before oil starts to run out in the United States.

      Hey, that Hitler guy really did great things for Germany.

      • Mark Cunnington

        Of course, I was being partially facetious in my characterization of N Korea as being more sustainable than the rest of the world. But N Korea can starve its people now, or the rest of us can continue on with our suicidal economic growth and population overshoot. The result will be the same — eventually our populations will be reduced, one way or another.

        BTW, oil started to run out in the US way back in 1971. That’s when Peak occurred and it’s been going down ever since, with some temporary reversals along that trajectory.

        • de Broglie

          Immigration to the United States will make it worse.

      • Joshua Turcotte

        Indeed; facetiousness aside, the modern world is not sustainable. If it goes on as it does, it can do nothing but crash and burn quite horribly, taking most of us with it, North Korean oppression notwithstanding. While renewable energy (nonfossil) can and will ramp up, consumption itself must ramp down, as the only hope for a solution is in the middle.

  • Salaminizer

    All it shows me is the success of socialism. If you define success as living in the dark ages.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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