To clarify how seasonal changes of environmental luminosity affect melatonin secretion in human beings, nocturnal urine samples were collected every 2 months throughout the year from 20 outdoor workers living in an area, for which exact data on solar irradiance and temperature were available (67-68 degrees N). Melatonin secretion rates, determined by melatonin-specific radioimmunoassays, were found to be twice as high in December as in April, i.e. 0.88 +/- 0.16 nmol/12 hr (mean +/- S.E.) versus 0.43 +/- 0.09 nmol/12 hr, P < 0.05. Regression analyses showed that melatonin values correlated best inversely with solar irradiance reflected off the ground (albedo). A 10-fold increase in albedo for 1-4 weeks prior to the date of urine sampling was associated with a ca. 50% reduction in melatonin secretion. Association with global irradiance was weaker and did not correlate with temperature. Thus, light reaching the eyes via snow or other reflecting surfaces appears to be most effective. These results assist us in understanding some of the mechanisms involved in certain biological phenomena that exhibit seasonal variations as, for instance, reproduction and self-destructive behavior.