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


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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