Atlantic Cities

To Beat Wintery Shadows, a Norwegian Mountain Town Installed Giant Mirrors

To Beat Wintery Shadows, a Norwegian Mountain Town Installed Giant Mirrors
Karl Martin Jakobsen

In late July, the small town of Rjukan, about two and a half hours west of Oslo, Norway, is treated to more than 18 hours of light a day—the sun rises before five, and sets after 10. But from September to March, the tall mountains surrounding the valley community effectively block out most direct sunlight. For the former industrial town-turned-winter recreation base camp, the change of seasons can contribute to particularly severe municipal case of seasonal affective disorder.

To give you an idea, this is what Rjukan looks like in late September, at the beginning of the dark season:

Rjukan in September. Image courtesy of Flickr user Kristian Vinkenes.

Town leaders hope a set of three giant mirrors on the mountains high above the city could change that. The mirrors, which total about 540 square feet, will send an elliptical beam of light directly into the central square, where town administrators plan to build an ice rink.

The angle of the solar-powered mirrors will be controlled by a computer in order to maximize the amount of sunlight redirected into the town. The contraption, known as a Solspeil, was delivered earlier this month and hoisted to a steep mountainside a little less than 1500 feet above the town's market square. The entire project cost about 5 million kroner, or about $835,000.

The Mirror project was nearly a century in the making for Rjukan. The idea was first proposed by local industrialist Sam Eyde in 1913, but the technology was too complicated. As a consolation for local workers stuck in the dark, his successors built a gondola to the mountaintops in 1928. The current Solspeil plans were based on a similar initiative in the Italian alpine village of Viganella, which installed its own mirrors in 2006.

The mirrors will get their first real test run in September, when the narrow valley is thrown into the shadows of Gaustatoppen, the highest mountain in Telemark county. Here's a sketch from local artist Martin Andersen, who spearheaded the initiative, of what the mirrors should look like in action:

Sketch of Rjukan market square by Martin Andersen

Top Image: Karl Martin Jakobsen. Courtesy of Visit Rjukan.

(h/t Grist).

Keywords: Light

Stephanie Garlock is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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