Iceland Mag

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Iceland Mag


Looking at the bright side: How do the short dark days of winter affect Icelanders?

By Jón Kaldal

  • The midnight sun Photo captured late June in Reykjavík. The most amount of annual daylight hours on the planet is at a few degrees north of Iceland Photo/Vilhelm Gunnarsson

Visitors to Iceland often wonder how the short dark days of winter affect the nation. When the amount of daylight is at its lowest in Reykjavík, the sun will hover over the horizon for less than four hours, with sunrise at around 11.20 and sunset at 15.30.

Researchers have shown a definite link between Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the degree of latitude where those affected live. The disorder strikes when the seasons change and brings varying levels of mood change in its sufferers. Also known as winter depression, or winter blues, the prevailing trend is that the further north you go the SADDER the people.

Iceland, however, is an exception. Research shows that SAD prevalence in Iceland is similar to that seen in, for example, New York, which is located considerably further south than Reykjavík.

Two possible explanations have been suggested. The first comes almost straight from Darwin, concluding that natural selection removed through the centuries those who were most susceptible to the disorder.

The other, and more recent theory revolves around the nutrition Icelanders get from the large quantity of seafood they traditionally eat.

The third possible reason, which has not been scientifically researched (and is actually not at all based on science), is that perhaps Icelanders have the ability to stockpile brightness.

While we have those long extreme nights during the winter the unrelenting summer days is the complete opposite.

It is a not a widely known fact, but the most amount of annual daylight hours on the planet is at a latitude of 69°, a few degrees north of Iceland, with 15.1 average hours for every 24-hour period.

And at 65°, which lies directly over Iceland, the average length of daylight is 14.9 hours. In comparison, the total number of hours of brightness close to the equator from midnight to midnight is only 12.8.

This means that during the long, dark, wet, windy and often cold winter months, Icelanders can remind themselves that the bright summer nights more than make up for the daylight shortage in the grimmer part of the year.

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