continental glaciers

Geography of Finland

The geography of Finland differs from that of other Nordic countries. Bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, between Sweden and Russia, Finland is the northernmost country on the European continent. Although other countries have points extending farther north, virtually all of Finland is north of 60 degrees north latitude; nearly a quarter of the land area and fully one-third of the latitudinal extent of the country lie north of the Arctic Circle.

Size, external boundaries, and geology

Finland's total area is 338,144 km² (130,558 sq. miles). Finland is the seventh largest country in Europe after Russia, Ukraine, France, Spain, Sweden and Germany. Of this area 10% is water, 69% forest, 8% cultivated land and 13% other.

The most predominant influences on Finland's geography were the continental glaciers that scoured and gouged the country's surface. When the glaciers receded about 10,000 years ago, they left behind them moraines, drumlins, and eskers. Other indications of their presence are the thousands of lakes they helped to form in the southern part of the country. The force of the moving ice sheets gouged the lake beds, and meltwaters helped to fill them. The recession of the glaciers is so recent (in geologic terms) that modern-day drainage patterns are immature and poorly established. The direction of glacial advance and recession set the alignment of the lakes and streams in a general northeast to southwest lineation. The two Salpausselkä Ridges, which run parallel to each other about twenty-five kilometers apart, are the terminal moraines. At their greatest height they reach an elevation of about 200 meters, the highest point in southern Finland.

Landform regions

Many countries of the world can be divided into distinct geographic regions, in each of which some physical characteristic is dominant, almost to the exclusion of others. In Finland, the same physical characteristics are common to each of the four geographic regions into which the country is divided. Regional differences in Finland lie, therefore, in subtle combinations of physical qualities. In archipelago Finland, rock and water are dominant. Coastal Finland consists of broad clay plains where agriculture plays a leading role. The interior Finnish lake district supports extensive forests. Upland Finland is covered by Arctic scrub.

Archipelago Finland, consisting of thousands of islands and skerries, extends from the southwestern coast out into the Baltic Sea. It includes the strategically significant Åland Islands, positioned at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia. After World War I, both Finland and Sweden laid claim to the islands, which are culturally more Swedish than Finnish. For strategic reasons, however, the League of Nations awarded the Åland Islands to Finland in 1921 . A principal reason for this decision was that, during the winter, the islands are physically linked to Finland by the frozen waters of the sea and are thus essential for the country's defense. These forest-covered and bare bedrock islands were, and continue to be, formed by the process of uplift following the last glaciation.

The rest of the country is also still emerging from the sea. The weight of the continental glaciers depressed the land over which they moved, and even now, a hundred centuries after their recession, Finland is rising up from this great load through the process of isostatic rebound. In the south and the southwest, this process is occurring slowly, at a rate of twenty-five to thirty centimeters a century. Farther north in the Ostrobothnia area, uplift is more rapid, it amounts to eighty or ninety centimeters a century. The process also means that Finland is growing about seven square kilometers yearly as land emerges from the sea.

Coastal Finland consists of broad clay plains extending from the coast inland, for no more than 100 kilometers. These plains slope southward from the morainic Salpausselkä Ridges in southern Finland. Along the Gulf of Bothnia coast, the plains slope southwest from upland areas. The land of coastal Finland is used for agriculture and dairy farming.

The interior lake district is the largest geographic region, and it is perhaps what most foreigners think of when they imagine Finland. The district is bounded to the south by the Salpausselkä Ridges. Behind the ridges extend networks of thousands of lakes separated by hilly forested countryside. This landscape continues to the east and extends into Russia. As a consequence, there is no natural border between the two countries. Because no set definition of what constitutes a lake and no procedures for counting the number of lakes exist, it has been impossible to ascertain exactly how many lakes the region has. There are, however, at least 55,000 lakes that are 200 or more meters wide. The largest is Lake Saimaa, which, with a surface area of more than 4,400 square kilometers, is the fifth largest lake in Europe. The deepest lake has a depth of only 100 meters; the depth of the average lake is 7 meters. Because they are shallow, these many lakes contain only slightly more water than Finland's annual rainfall. The hilly, forest-covered landscape of the lake plateau is dominated by drumlins and by long sinuous eskers, both glacial remnants.

Upland Finland extends beyond the Arctic Circle. The extreme north of this region is known as Lapland. The highest points in upland Finland reach an elevation of about 1,000 meters, and they are found in the Kilpisjärvi area of the Scandinavian Keel Ridge. In the southern upland region the hills are undulating, while in the north they are rugged. Much of upland Finland is not mountainous, but consists of bogs.

Finland's longest and most impressive rivers are in the north. The Kemijoki has the largest network of tributaries. Farther south the Oulujoki drains the beginning of the north country.


Latitude is the principal influence on Finland's climate. Because of Finland's northern location, winter is the longest season. On the average, winter lasts 105 to 120 days in the archipelago and 180 to 220 days in Lapland. This means that southern portions of the country are snow-covered about three to four months of the year and the northern, about seven months. The long winter causes about half of the annual 500 to 600 millimeters of precipitation in the north to fall as snow. Precipitation in the south amounts to about 600 to 700 millimeters annually. Like that of the north, it occurs all through the year, though not so much of it is snow.

The Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Eurasian continent to the east interact to modify the climate of the country. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift Current, which warm Norway and Sweden, also warm Finland. Westerly winds bring the warm air currents into the Baltic areas and to the country's shores, moderating winter temperatures, especially in the south. These winds, because of clouds associated with weather systems accompanying the westerlies, also decrease the amount of sunshine received during the summer. By contrast, the continental high pressure system situated over the Eurasian continent counteracts the maritime influences, causing severe winters and occasionally high temperatures in the summer.

The highest ever recorded temperature is 35,9° (Turku, July 1914). The lowest, -51,5° (Kittilä, January 1999). The annual middle temperature is relatively high in the southwestern part of the country (5,0 - 7,5°), with quite mild winters and warm summers, and low in the northeastern part of Lapland (0 - -4°).

Temperature extremes for every month:

Extreme highs:

  • January: +10,9 (6.1.1973, Maarianhamina)
  • February: +11,8 (28.2.1943, Helsinki)
  • March: +19,2 (27.3.2007, Hyvinkää)
  • April: +25,5 (27.4.1921, Jyväskylä)
  • May: +31,0 (30.5.1995/31.5.1995, Lapinjärvi)
  • June: +33,8 (24.6.1934, Ähtäri)
  • July: +35,9 (9.7.1914, Turku)
  • August: +33,2 (5.8.1912, Sulkava)
  • September: +28,8 (6.9.1968, Rauma)
  • October: +19,4 (2.10.1985, Helsinki)
  • November: +14,1 (2.11.1999, Maarianhamina)
  • December: +10,8 (6.12.2006, Salo)

Extreme lows:

  • January: -51,5 (28.1.1999, Kittilä)
  • February: -49,0 (5.2.1912, Sodankylä)
  • March: -44,3 (1.3.1971, Salla)
  • April: -36,0 (9.4.1912, Kuusamo)
  • May: -24,5 (1.5.1971, Enontekiö)
  • June: -7,0 (3.6.1962, Inari)
  • July: -5,0 (12.7.1958, Kilpisjärvi)
  • August: -10,8 (26.8.1980, Salla)
  • September: -18,7 (26.9.1968, Sodankylä)
  • October: -31,8 (25.10.1968, Sodankylä)
  • November: -42,0 (30.11.1915, Sodankylä)
  • December: -47,0 (21.12.1919, Pielisjärvi)

Area and boundaries

total: 337,030 km²
land: 305,470 km²
water: 31,560 km²

Area - comparative: slightly smaller than Germany

Land boundaries:
total: 2,628 km
border countries: Norway 729 km, Sweden 586 km, Russia 1,313 km

Coastline: 1,126 km (excludes islands and coastal indentations)

Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 6 nautical miles (11 km)
continental shelf: 200 m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive fishing zone: 12 nautical miles (22 km)
territorial sea: 12 nautical miles (22 km), 3 nautical miles (6 km) in the Gulf of Finland

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Baltic Sea 0 m
highest point: Haltitunturi 1,328 m

Resources and land use

Natural resources: timber, copper, zinc, iron ore, silver

Land use:
arable land: 8%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 0%
forests and woodland: 76%
other: 16% (1993 est.)

Irrigated land: 640 km² (1993 est.)

Environmental concerns

Natural hazards: Cold periods in winter pose a threat to the unprepared.

Environment - current issues: air pollution from manufacturing and power plants contributing to acid rain; water pollution from industrial wastes, agricultural chemicals; habitat loss threatens wildlife populations

Environment - international agreements:
party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 85, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling, Air Pollution–Persistent Organic Pollutants (signed 2001, ratified 2002), Climate Change–Kyoto Protocol (signed May 1998, ratified together with 14 other EU countries May 31st 2002).

Geography - note: long boundary with Russia; Helsinki is northernmost national capital on European continent; population concentrated on small southwestern coastal plain

See also


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