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Rjukan was built between and , after an entrepreneur called Sam Eyde bought the local waterfall known as the smoking waterfall and constructed a hydroelectric power plant there.

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Factories producing artificial fertiliser followed. He was drawn to the three-dimensionality of the place: a town of 3,, in the cleft between two towering mountains — the first seriously high ground you reach as you travel west of Oslo. But the departing Sun left Martin feeling gloomy and lethargic. It still rose and set each day, and provided some daylight — unlike in the far north of Norway, where it is dark for months at a time — but the Sun never climbed high enough for the people of Rjukan to actually see it or feel its warming rays directly on their skin.

If only someone could find a way of reflecting some sunlight down into the town, he thought. Few would have been driven to build giant mirrors above their town to fix it.

What is it about the flat, gloomy greyness of winter that seems to penetrate our skin and dampen our spirits, at least at higher latitudes? The idea that our physical and mental health varies with the seasons and sunlight goes back a long way. Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued, as if keeping a happy secret.

Today, this mild form of malaise is often called the winter blues. And for a minority of people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder SAD , winter is quite literally depressing.


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First described in the s, the syndrome is characterised by recurrent depressions that occur annually at the same time each year. Even healthy people who have no seasonal problems seem to experience this low-amplitude change over the year, with worse mood and energy during autumn and winter and an improvement in spring and summer.

The light shines on the town square but not the rest of Rjukan Credit: Getty Images. Why should darker months trigger this tiredness and low mood in so many people? There are several theories, none of them definitive, but most relate to the circadian clock. Another is that some people produce more of a hormone called melatonin during winter than in summer. Levels of this hormone usually rise at night in response to darkness, helping us to feel sleepy, and are suppressed by the bright light of morning.

Precisely why this should trigger feelings of depression is still unclear.

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In the Shadow of the City 2017

One idea is that this tiredness could then have unhealthy knock-on effects. According to Daniel Kripke, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, when melatonin strikes a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, this alters the synthesis of another hormone — active thyroid hormone — that regulates all sorts of behaviours and bodily processes. When dawn comes later in the winter, the end of melatonin secretion drifts later, says Kripke.

From animal studies, it appears that high melatonin levels just after the time an animal wakes up strongly suppress the making of active thyroid hormone — and lowering thyroid levels in the brain can cause changes in mood, appetite and energy.

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For instance, thyroid hormone is known to influence serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. Several studies have shown that levels of brain serotonin in humans are at their lowest in the winter and highest in the summer. New Research. Curators' Corner.


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  6. The taller the skyscraper, the longer the shadow. Though specifically designed for London, where the next few years will bring a major influx of skyscrapers , the design could work in any dense urban area, where skyscrapers obscure the sun. The no-shadow skyscraper is actually a set of twin towers that twist around each other. Their reflective facades are angled just-so to direct sunlight bouncing off one tower into the shadow of the other.