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Geography of Norway
Continent Europe
Region Northern Europe
Area 385,199 km2 (148,726.2 sq mi)
Borders Total land borders:
2515 km
Highest point Galdhøpiggen
2469 m
Longest river Glomma
604 km
Largest lake Mjøsa
362 km²

Norway is located in Northern Europe on the western and northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, bordering the North Sea in southwest and the Skagerrak inlet to the south, the North Atlantic Ocean (Norwegian Sea) in the west and the Barents Sea to the northeast. Norway has a long land border with Sweden to the east, a shorter one with Finland in the northeast and a still shorter border with Russia in the far northeast.

Norway has a very elongated shape, one of the longest and most rugged coastlines in the world, and some 50,000 islands off the much indented coastline. The mainland covers 13° latitude, from 58°N to more than 71°N, (Svalbard north to 81°N), and covers the longitude from 5°E in Solund to 31°E in Vardø (Jan Mayen to 9°W, Kvitøya to 33°E).

Norway is one of the world's most northerly countries, and one of Europe's most mountainous countries with large areas dominated by the Scandinavian Mountains; average elevation is 460 m and 32% of the mainland is located above the tree line.

The country-length chain of peaks is geologically continuous with the mountains of Scotland, Ireland and, crossing the Atlantic Ocean, the Appalachian Mountains of North America. Geologists hold that all these formed a single range prior to the breakup of the ancient supercontinent Pangaea.

Virtually the entire country was covered with a thick ice sheet during the last ice age, as well as in many earlier ice ages. The movement of the ice carved out deep valleys, and when the ice melted, the sea filled many of these valleys, creating Norway's famous fjords.[1]

The land is still rebounding from the enormous weight of the ice (isostatic rebound), "growing out of the sea" with several mm a year, especially the eastern part of the country and the inner part of the long fjords, where the ice cover was thickest. This is a slow process, and for thousands of years following the end of the ice age, the sea covered substantial areas of what is today dry land. The sea reached what is today an elevation of 221 m in Oslo (Aker), 25 m in Stavanger, 5 m near Stad, 180 m in Trondheim, 50 m in Tromsø and 75 m in Kirkenes. This old seabed is now among the best agricultural land in the country.

The glaciers in the higher mountain areas today are not remnants of the large ice sheet of the ice age, their origins are more recent [2]. The regional climate was up to 1-3 °C warmer in 7000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. in the Holocene climatic optimum, (relative to the 1961-90 period), melting the remaining glaciers in the mountains almost completely during that period.

As a result of the ice carving, Sognefjorden is the world's second deepest fjord and Hornindalsvatnet is the deepest lake in Europe.

Waterfalls are common along the western part of the mountain chain, here represented by The Seven Sisters in Geiranger



Norway - regions and counties

Geographic coordinates: 62°N 10°E / 62°N 10°E / 62; 10

Map references: Europe

total: 324,220 km²
land: 307,860 km²
water: 16,360 km²
With Svalbard and Jan Mayen included: 385,199 km²

Area - comparative: slightly larger than New Mexico, but slightly smaller than Vietnam.
With Svalbard and Jan Mayen included, the area is slightly larger than Japan.

Land boundaries:
total: 2,515 km
border countries: Finland 729 km, Sweden 1,619 km, Russia 196 km.

Coastline: 25,148 km (continental); 83,281 km (including islands) [3]

Maritime claims:
contiguous zone: 10 nmi (18.5 km; 11.5 mi)
continental shelf: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi)
exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi)
territorial sea: 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi)

Physical geography

Satellite image of continental Norway in winter

Scandinavian Mountains. The Scandinavian Mountains are the most defining feature of the country. Starting with Setesdalsheiene north of the southern Skagerrak coast, the mountains goes north, comprising large parts of the country, and intersected by the many fjords of Vestlandet. This part includes Hardangervidda, Jotunheimen (with Galdhøpiggen 2469 m), Sognefjell and Trollheimen in the north, with large glaciers, such as Jostedalsbreen, Folgefonna and Hardangerjøkulen. The mountain chain swings eastwards south of Trondheim, with ranges such as Dovrefjell and Rondane, and reaches to the border with Sweden, where they are mostly gently sloping plateaus. The mountains then follows the border in a northeasterly direction (known as Kjølen). The mountains are intersected by many fjords in Nordland and Troms, where they become more alpine and creates many islands as they meet the sea. The Scandinavian mountains forms the Lyngen Alps and reaches into northwestern Finnmark, gradually becoming lower from Altafjord towards Nordkapp (North Cape), where they finally ends at the shores of the Barents sea.

The Scandinavian Mountains have naturally divided the country in physical regions; valleys radiate from the mountains in all directions. The following physical regions will only partially correspond to traditional regions and counties in Norway.

Southern coast. The southern Skagerrak and North Sea coast is the lowland south of the mountain range, from Stavanger in the west to the western reaches of the outer part of the Oslofjord in the east. In this part of the country, valleys tend to follow a north - south direction. This area is mostly a hilly area, but with some very flat areas such as Lista and Jæren.

Lysefjorden seen from Prekestolen in the district of Ryfylke in Western Norway.

Southeast. The land east of the mountains (corresponding to Østlandet, most of Telemark and Røros) is dominated by valleys going in a north - south direction in the eastern part, and a more northwest - southeast direction further west, and the valleys congregate on the Oslofjord. The longest valleys in the country are Østerdal and Gudbrandsdal. This part also contains larger areas of lowland surrounding the Oslofjord, as well as the Glomma river and lake Mjøsa.

Western fjords. The land west of the mountains (corresponding to Vestlandet north of Stavanger) is more dominated by the mountain chain, as the mountains goes all the way to the coast, albeit gradually becoming lower towards the coast. This part is dominated by large fjords, the largest are Sognefjord and Hardangerfjord. Geirangerfjord is often regarded as the ultimate fjord scenery. The coast is protected by a chain of skerries (the Skjærgård) arranged to parallel the coast and provide the beginning of a protected passage almost the entire 1,600 km route from Stavanger to Nordkapp. The fjords and most valleys generally goes in a west - east direction, and further north a more northwest - southeast direction.

Trondheim region. The land north of Dovre (corresponding to Trøndelag except Røros) comprises a more gentle landscape with more rounded shapes and mountains, and with valleys congregating on the Trondheimsfjord, where they open up and forms a larger lowland area. Further north is the valley of Namdalen, opening up in the Namsos area.

Jiekkevarre reaching more than 1,800 m / 6000ft high from the ice-free Balsfjord; February 2009.

However, the Fosen peninsula, and the most northern coast (Leka) is more dominated by mountains and more narrow valleys.

Northern fjords. The land further north (corresponding to Nordland, Troms and northwestern Finnmark) is again more dominated by pointed mountains going all the way to the coast, and numerous fjords. The fjords and valleys generally lie in a west - east direction in the southern part of this area, and a more northwest - southeast direction further north. The Saltfjellet mountain range is an exception, as the valleys goes in a more north - south direction from these mountains. This long area comprises many large islands, including Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja.

Far northeast. The interior and the coast east of Nordkapp (corresponding to Finnmarksvidda and eastern Finnmark) is less dominated by mountains, and is mostly below 400 m. The interior is dominated by the large Finnmarksvidda plateau. There are large, wide fjords going in a north - south direction. This coast lacks the small islands forming the skerries so typical of the Norwegian coast. Furthest to the east, the Varangerfjord goes in an east - west direction, and is the only large fjord in the country opening up towards the east.

There are at least 100,000 islands and islets along the coast. Senja is the second largest island along the coast, 300 km inside the Arctic Circle.
Arctic summer landscape: Fjord, valleys and mountains near Longyearbyen; image: JPL/NASA

Svalbard. Further north, in the Arctic ocean, lies the Svalbard archipelago, which is also dominated by mountains, but these mountains are mostly covered by large glaciers, especially the eastern part of the archipelago, where glaciers cover more than 90%; Austfonna is the largest glacier in Europe. Unlike the mainland, these glaciers calves directly in the open ocean.

Jan Mayen. To the far northwest, halfway towards Greenland, is the island Jan Mayen, where Beerenberg is found, the only active volcano in Norway.

Bouvet Island. Located in the South Atlantic Ocean at 54°S and mostly covered by glaciers, this island is one of the most remote islands in the world, inhabited only by seals and birds.

Peter I Island. This island in the South Pacific Ocean at 69°S, 90°W is dominated by glaciers and a volcano. As with Bouvet Island, this island is regarded as an external dependency, and not part of the Kingdom.

Queen Maud Land is Norway's claim in Antarctica. This large, sectorial area stretches to the South Pole and are completely dominated by the world's largest ice sheet, but with some impressive nunataks penetrating above the ice. The Troll Research Station manned by Norway is located on a snow free mountain slope, the only station in Antarctica not to be located on the ice.

Light, timezone and tide

Areas in Norway located north of the Arctic Circle will have midnight sun and corresponding winter darkness, the length of both depends on the latitude. In Longyearbyen, the upper part of the sun disc is above the horizon (provided clear view against the northern horizon) from April 19 to August 23, and the winter darkness lasts from October 27 - February 14. The corresponding dates for Nordkapp is from May 11 - July 31, and November 19 - January 22. For Tromsø, the dates are May 17 - July 25, and November 26 - January 15; and for Bodø from May 30 - July 12 (no true polar night in Bodø due to atmospheric refraction). The winter darkness is not totally dark on the mainland; there is twilight for a few hours around noon in Tromsø, but in Longyearbyen there is near total darkness in the midst of the dark period. Even the southern part of the country experiences large seasonal variations in daylight; in Oslo the sun rises at 03:54 and sets 22:54 at summer solstice, but is only above the horizon from 09:18 - 15:12 at winter solstice.

The season with long daylight, when the sun sets after 20:00 in the evening, last from about April 1 - September 10 (GMT + 2) in the whole country except eastern Finnmark. The season with short daylight, when the sun sets before 16:00 in the afternoon, lasts from November 24 - January 7 in Stavanger, November 11 - January 19 in Oslo, November 4 - January 28 in Trondheim, from the last Sunday in October - February 18 in Tromsø and from October 18 - March 2 in Vardø.

The northern part of the country is located in the aurora borealis zone; the aurora is occasionally seen in the southern part of the country.

Norway uses Central European Time, corresponding to the 15°E longitude. As the country is very elongated, this is at odds with the local daylight hours at the eastern and western parts. In Vardø the local daylight hours is 64 minutes earlier, and in Bergen it is 39 minutes later. Thus, Finnmark gains early morning daylight but loses evening daylight, and Vestlandet loses early morning light but gains more evening daylight with this timezone. Daylight saving time (GMT + 2) is observed from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.

The difference between low tide and high tide is small on the southern coast and large in the north; ranging from on average 0.17 m in Mandal to about 0.30 m in Oslo and Stavanger, 0.90 m in Bergen, 1.80 m in Trondheim, Bodø and Hammerfest and as much as 2.17 m in Vadsø.


Temperatures 5 May 2008 was fairly typical for this time of spring, although slightly above average in the southermost part of the country.
Map of Norway showing the normal temperature (annual average). Normal period 1961-1990.

The climate of Norway is surprisingly temperate for a country situated at such a northerly latitude; this is mainly due to the North Atlantic Current with its extension the Norwegian Current raising the air temperature, and the prevailing southwesterlies bringing the mild air on shore.

Precipitation. Some areas of Vestlandet and southern Nordland are Europe's wettest due to orographic lift, particularly where the moist westerlies first are intercepted by high mountains; this occurs slightly inland from the outer skerry guard. Brekke in Sogn og Fjordane has the highest annual precipitation with 3,575 mm; annual precipitation can exceed 5,000 mm in mountain areas near the coast. Lurøy, near the Arctic Circle, gets 2,935 mm on average, an amazing humidity for such a northerly area. Precipitation is heaviest in autumn and early winter along the coast, while April to June is the driest. The innermost parts of the long fjords are somewhat drier, annual precipitation in Lærdal is 491 mm, in Levanger 750 mm and only 300 mm in Skibotn at the head of Lyngenfjord, the latter also has the national record for clear-weather days. The regions to the east of the mountains (including Oslo) have a more continental climate with less precipitation, and enjoys more sunshine and usually warmer summers; precipitation is highest in summer and early autumn (often heavy showers not lasting long) while winter and spring tend to be driest inland. Valleys surrounded by mountains can be very dry compared to nearby areas, and a larger area in the interior of Finnmark gets less than 400 mm precipitation annually. Svalbard Airport has the lowest average annual precipitation with 190 mm, while Skjåk has the lowest average on the mainland with only 278 mm, the lowest ever recorded on the mainland is 64 mm at Hjerkinn in Dovre. Monthly averages varies from 5 mm in April in Skjåk to 454 mm in September in Brekke. Coastal areas from Lindesnes north to Vardø have more than 200 days/year with precipitation; however this is with a very low threshold value (0.1 mm precipitation). Average number of days/year with at least 3 mm precipitation is 77 in Blindern/Oslo, 96 in Kjevik/Kristiansand, 158 in Florida/Bergen, 93 in Værnes/Trondheim and 109 in Tromsø.[4]

Temperature. The coast experiences much milder winters than other areas at the same latitudes. The temperature difference from the coldest month to the warmest is only 11 - 15 °C in coastal areas; some lighthouses have a year amplitude of just 10 °C, such as Svinøy in Herøy with a coldest month of 2.7 °C [5]. The amplitude of inland areas are larger, with a maximum of 30 °C in Karasjok. Finnmarksvidda has the coldest winters in mainland Norway, but inland areas much further south can also see severe cold; Røros has recorded -50 °C and Tynset has a January average -13°C.

The inland valleys have reliable snow cover in winter; Sigdal has a February average of -7°C (1961-90). Due to inversion, the valley floor is often colder than the hillsides above during winter.

The islands in southern Lofoten, to the north of the Arctic Circle in North Norway, are the most northerly locations in the world where all winter months have mean temperatures above 0 °C. Spring is the season when the temperature differences between the southern and northern part of the country is largest; this is also the time of year when daytime and nighttime temperatures differs the most. Inland valleys and the innermost fjord areas have less wind and sees the warmest summer days; the Oslofjord lowland is warmest with July 24-hr average of 17 °C, but even Alta at 70°N has July average of 13.5 °C, and commercial fruit orchards are common in the innermost areas of the western fjords, but also in Telemark. Inland areas reach their warmth peak around mid-July, and coastal areas by the first half of August. Humidity is usually low in summer. The North Atlantic Current splits in two in the northern part of the Norwegian Sea; one branch goes east into the Barents Sea, while the other goes north along the west coast of Spitsbergen; this modifies the Arctic polar climate somewhat and results in open water throughout the year at higher latitudes than any other place in the Arctic. On the eastern coast of the Svalbard archipelago, the sea used to be frozen during most of the year, but the last years warming (graph) have seen open waters noticeably longer.

Normal monthly averages range from -17.1 °C in January in Karasjok 129 m amsl.[6] to 17.3 °C in July in Oslo - Studenterlunden 15 m amsl.[7] The warmest year average temperature is 7.7 °C in Skudeneshavn in Karmøy, and the coldest is -3.1 °C in Sihcajarvi in Kautokeino (excluding higher mountains and Svalbard); this is a 10.8 °C difference, about the same as the temperature difference between Skudeneshavn and Athens, Greece [8].

The warmest temperature ever recorded in Norway is 35.6 °C in Nesbyen. The coldest temperature ever recorded is −51.4 °C in Karasjok. The warmest month on record was July 1901 in Oslo, with a mean (24hr) of 22.7 °C, and the coldest month was February 1966 in Karasjok with a mean of -27.1 °C. Southwesterly winds further warmed by foehn can give warm temperatures in narrow fjords in winter; Tafjord has recorded 17.9 °C in January and Sunndal 18.9 °C in February.

Average daily minimum temperature in January is -6.8 °C in Oslo, -4.8 °C in Kristiansand, -0.4 °C in Bergen and -6.5 °C in Trondheim and Tromsø. The average daily high in July is 21.5 °C in Oslo, 20.1 °C in Kristiansand, 17.6 °C in Bergen, 18.4 °C in Trondheim and 15.3 °C in Tromsø [9]. Compared to coastal areas, inland valleys and the innermost fjord areas have larger diurnal temperature variation, especially in spring and summer. In July, the average daily high temperature is 20.1 in Lærdal and 17.8 in Karasjok, roughly 3°C warmer than coastal locations at the same latitude.

Climate data for some locations in Norway; base period 1961-1990 (temperatures are 24-hour average)
Location Elevation Temperature (°C) Precip GS/FFD
Snow >25 cm
Jan April July Oct year
Blindern/Oslo 94 m -4.3 4.5 16.4 6.3 5.7 763 mm 188 / 179 133 30
Lillehammer 242 m -9.1 2.3 14.7 3.8 2.9 660 mm 165 / 138 108 110
Geilo 810 m -8.2 -1.1 11.2 2.1 1.0 700 mm 127 / 87 67 162
Sognefjellhytta in Lom/Sognefjell 1413 m -10.7 -5.8 5.7 -2.1 -3.1 860 mm 58 / - 0 244
Tønsberg 10 m -3.2 4.6 16.8 7.3 6.3 930 mm 194 / - 136 9
Kristiansand 22 m -0.9 5.2 15.7 8.1 7.0 1380 mm 205 / 175 145 21
Sola/Stavanger 7 m 0.8 5.5 14.2 8.8 7.4 1180 mm 215 / 201 144 0
Florida/Bergen 12 m 1.3 5.9 14.3 8.6 7.6 2250 mm 215 / 210 143 3
Lærdal 24 m -2.5 5.2 14.7 6.1 5.9 491 mm 193 / - 124 0
Molde 20 m 0.5 4.7 13.5 7.5 6.7 1640 mm 195 / - 120 54
Kongsvoll in Oppdal/Dovrefjell 885 m -9.8 -2.5 9.9 1.4 -0.3 445 mm 115 / 67 9 127
Værnes/Trondheim 12 m -3.4 3.6 13.7 5.7 5.0 892 mm 180 / 155 114 14
Rørvik 25 m -0.9 3.6 12.8 6.6 5.6 1285 mm 186 / - 106 9
Fauske 14 m -4.1 1.9 13.0 4.4 3.9 1040 mm 163 / - 95 88
Leknes/Lofoten 15 m -0.4 2.3 12.0 5.8 4.9 1225 mm 172 / 163 79 39
Bardufoss 76 m -10.4 -0.2 13.0 0.9 0.7 652 mm 134 / 114 77 126
Langnes/Tromsø 8 m -3.8 0.7 11.8 3.2 2.9 1000 mm 139 / 141 65 160
Honningsvåg 10 m -4.5 -0.6 10.3 2.6 2.0 765 mm 115 / - 40 110
Kirkenes 10 m -11.5 -2.0 12.6 0.9 -0.2 450 mm 125 / 120 65 140
Longyearbyen/Svalbard 28 m -14.6 -11.0 6.5 -5.5 -6.0 210 mm 50 / - 0 34
GS/FFD: Growing season/Frost-free days: Growing season is the number of days/year with 24-hour average temperature at least 5 °C; Frost-free days is the average length of the frost free period from the last overnight frost in spring to the first frost in autumn (base period for FFD is 1995-2009); some Arctic-alpine plants can grow in temperatures almost down to 0 °C. FFD from nearby locations: Kristiansand airport Kjevik for Kristiansand, Fokstugu (973 m) for Dovrefjell, Bodø for Leknes, Kirkenes airport for Kirkenes.
Summer: Number of days/year with 24-hour average temperature at least 10 °C; this is based on average temperature calculated for each day of the year giving a smooth curve; by this definition summer starts 12 May in Oslo and Bergen, 21 May in Trondheim and 11 June in Bardufoss.
Snow: Number of days/year with at least 25 cm (9.8 in) snow cover on the ground; 1971–2000 base period.
Sognefjellhytta: Mountain lodge; large diurnal temperature variation in summer; July average is 10 °C near treeline.
Snow cover data from nearby locations: Slagentangen is used for Tønsberg, Kjevik for Kristiansand, Repvåg for Honningsvåg, Neiden for Kirkenes and Svalbard Airport snow data (1976–2000 base period) is used for Longyearbyen. Tromsø snow data from the meteorological station (100 m); Molde snow data from Nøisomhed, Molde (14 m, 1979 - 87 base period), Kongsvoll snow data 1957 - 77 base period.
Honningsvåg is on the southern coast of Magerøya, the windy Nordkapp plateau (307 m a.s.l.) will be approximately 2–3 °C colder in summer.

As seen from the table, Norway's climate shows large variations, but with the exception of a small area along the northeastern coast in Finnmark, all areas below the treeline (populated areas) of the Norwegian mainland has a temperate or subarctic climate (Köppen groups C and D). Svalbard and Jan Mayen have polar climate (Köppen group E). More specifically, the climate is maritime mild temperate / marine west coast (Köppen: Cfb) along the southwestern and part of the southern coast as in Bergen and Kristiansand; hemiboreal / humid continental (Dfb) in the lowlands in the southeast as in Oslo; cool maritime/subpolar oceanic (Cfc) along the nortwestern coastal areas as in Leknes; continental subarctic climate (Dfc) in inland valleys and highlands below the treeline in much of the country and reaching to the coast in the northernmost part as seen in Geilo, Bardufoss and Kirkenes; alpine tundra climate above the treeline in mountain areas all over the country as seen in Dovrefjell and Sognefjell. Polar tundra (ET) is found at Jan Mayen and in the Svalbard archipelago including Longyearbyen, and also includes a narrow area along the northeastern coast from Nordkapp to Vardø on the mainland. True ice cap climate (EF) can only be found at elevations higher than approximately 400–800 m in Svalbard and Jan Mayen, with the lowest temperatures on Nordaustlandet.

Climate since 1990. Temperatures have tended to be higher in recent years, which is believed to be a consequence of global warming. Using the same data source but with the more recent 19-year period 1991-2009 as base period, this results in winter temperatures for the same stations that are 1 °C to 2.5 °C higher, while the July 24-hr average temperatures increases by approximately 1 °C. For Blindern/Oslo, the 1991-2009 period gives a January average of -2.1 °C and a July 24 hour average of 17.4 °C. For Florida/Bergen the corresponding temperatures are 2.9 °C and 15.5 °C, for Værnes/Trondheim -0.6 °C and 15.1 °C and for Langnes/Tromsø -2.4 °C and 12.2 °C. Compared to the 1961-90 period, a much larger area along the coast, including Kristiansand, Rørvik and Leknes, have average temperatures above freezing all year [10] .

As a consequence of warming, summers last longer and winters are getting shorter; snow cover have tended to decrease in those lowland areas where winter temperatures often hover around freezing (including most major cities), while winter precipitation in the mountains and cold inland areas falls as snow, and might have increased in higher mountain areas. Using these recent 19 years as base period would result in substantial areas in Norway being classified in a different climate zone compared to 1961-90; Oslo and Trondheim would be maritime temperate (Cfb), Tromsø cool maritime (Cfc), and Lillehammer, earlier located at the intersection between subarctic (Dfc) and humid continental (Dfb) climate, would be firmly humid continental. Substantial mountain areas above the treeline would eventually be wooded. The strongest warming has been observed on Svalbard, where the last three years (2005-2007) have been the warmest ever observed [11]. In addition to warming, precipitation have increased on the mainland, especially in autumn and winter, increasing erosion and the risk of landslides.
Sources: See references.


A satellite image of southern Norway with snow shown as red highlights the terrain. Especially the fjords Sognefjorden and Hardangerfjorden are clearly visible.

Glaciated; mostly high plateaus and rugged mountains broken by fertile valleys; small, scattered plains; coastline deeply indented by fjords; arctic tundra only in the extreme northeast (largely found on the Varanger Peninsula). Frozen ground all-year can also be found in the higher mountain areas and in the interior of Finnmark county. Numerous glaciers are still found in Norway.

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Norwegian Sea 0 m
highest point: Galdhøpiggen 2,469 m

Biological diversity

Due to the large latitudinal range of the country and the varied topography and climate, Norway has a larger number of different habitats than almost any other European country. There are approximately 60,000 species of different lifeforms in Norway and adjacent waters (excluding bacteria and virus). The Norwegian Shelf large marine ecosystem is considered highly productive.[12] The total number of species include 16,000 species of insects (probably 4,000 more species yet to be described), 20,000 species of algae, 1,800 species of lichen, 1,050 species of mosses, 2,800 species of vascular plants, up to 7,000 species of fungi, 450 species of birds (250 species nesting in Norway), 90 species of mammals, 45 fresh-water species of fish, 150 salt-water species of fish, 1,000 species of fresh-water invertebrates and 3,500 species of salt-water invertebrates [13]. About 40,000 of these species have been described by science. The red list of 2006 encompasses 3,886 species [14]. 17 species are listed mainly because they are endangered on a global scale, such as the European Beaver, even if the population in Norway are not seen as endangered. There are 430 species of fungi on the red list, many of these are closely associated with the small remaining areas of old-growth forests [15]. There are also 90 species of birds on the list and 25 species of mammals. 1,988 current species are listed as endangered or vulnerable as of 2006; of these are 939 listed as vulnerable (VU), 734 species are listed as endangered (EN), and 285 species are listed as critically endangered (CR) in Norway, among these are the gray wolf, the arctic fox (healthy population on Svalbard) and the pool frog.

The largest predator in Norwegian waters is the sperm whale, and the largest fish is the basking shark. The largest predator on land is the polar bear, while the brown bear is the largest predator on the Norwegian mainland, where the common moose is the largest animal.


Norway include parts of four floristic regions in the Circumboreal Region.

Natural vegetation in Norway varies considerably, as can be expected in a country covering such a variation in latitude. There are generally fewer species of trees in Norway than in areas in western North America with a similar climate. This is because the migration routes after the ice age is more difficult in the north - south direction in Europe, with bodies of water (like the Baltic Sea and the North Sea) and mountains creating barriers, while in America there is a continuous continent and the mountains follow a north - south direction. Many imported plants have been able to ripen seeds and spread, and less than half of the 2,630 plant species in Norway today actually occur naturally in the country [16]. About 210 species of plants growing in Norway are listed as endangered, and 13 species are endemic [17]. The national parks in Norway are mostly located in mountain areas, and only about 1.7% of the productive forests in the country are protected [18].

Some plants are classified as western due to their need for high humidity and/or low tolerance of winter frost; these will stay close to the southwestern coast, with the northern limit near Ålesund; some examples are holly and bell heather. Some western species occur north to Helgeland (such as Erica tetralix), some even to Lofoten (such as Luzula sylvatica). The mild temperatures along the coast allows for some surprises; some hardy species of palm grow even as far north as Sunnmøre, one of the largest remaining Linden forest in Europe grows at Flostranda in Stryn[19] and planted deciduous trees such as horse chestnut and beech thrives north of the Arctic circle (as in Steigen).

Plants classified as eastern need comparatively more summer sunshine, with less humidity, but can tolerate cold winters; these will often occur in the southeast and inland areas, examples are Daphne mezereum, Fragaria viridis and spiked speedwell. Some eastern species common in Siberia grows in the river valleys of eastern Finnmark. There are also species which seems to be in-between these extremes, like the southern plants, where both winter and summer climate is important (such as pedunculate oak, European ash and dog's mercury); other plants are dependent on the type of bedrock.

There are a considerable number of alpine species in the mountains in Norway; these will not tolerate summers that are comparatively long and warm or can not compete with plants adapted to a longer and warmer growing season; many alpine plants are common in the North Boreal zone and some in the Middle Boreal zone, but their main area of distribution is on the alpine tundra in the Scandinavian mountains and on the Arctic tundra. Many of the most hardy species have adapted by using more than one summer to ripen seeds. Examples of alpine species are glacier buttercup, Draba lactea and Salix herbacea. A well-known anomaly is the 30 American alpine species, which in Europe only grow in two mountainous parts of Norway; the Dovre-Trollheimen and Jotunheim mountains in the south and the Saltdal to western Finnmark in the north (Gjærevoll, 1992, pp 146–160; Moen, 1998, p 52). Other than in Norway, these species grow only in Canada and Greenland, such as the Braya linearis and Carex scirpoidea. It is unknown whether these survived the ice age on some mountain peak penetrating the ice, or they spread from further south in Europe, or why did they not spread to other mountainous regions of Europe. Some alpine species have a wider distribution and also grow in Siberia, such as the Rhododendron lapponicum (Lapland rosebay). Other alpine species are common in the whole Arctic, some only grows in Europe, such as globe-flower.

Mandal, the most southerly town in Norway; nemoral zone.

The following vegetation zones in Norway are all based on botanical criteria (Moen, 1998; Gjærevoll 1992), although, as mentioned, some plants will have specific demands. Forests, bogs and wetlands, as well as heaths, are all included in the different vegetation zones; a South Boreal bog will differ from a North Boreal bog, although some plant species might occur on both.



A small area along the southern coast, from Soknedal in southern Rogaland and east to Fevik in Aust-Agder (including Kristiansand) belongs to the Nemoral vegetation zone. This zone is located below 150 m above sea level and at most 30 km inland along the valleys. This is the vegetation zone dominating western Europe north of southern France. The hallmark of this zone in Norway is the domination of oak and the virtual complete lack of typical boreal species such as Norway spruce and grey alder, although a lowland variant of pine occurs. Nemoral covers a total of 0.5% of the land area (excluding Svalbard and Jan Mayen).

Bygdøy October 2007; the hemiboreal lowland near Oslofjord has the highest diversity due to being closest to the migration route from the south.

Hemiboreal (Boreonemoral)

The hemiboreal zone covers a total of 7% of the land area in Norway, including 80% of Østfold and Vestfold. This vegetation represents a mix of nemoral and boreal plant species, and belong to the Palearctic Sarmatic mixed forests PA0436 terrestrial ecoregion. The nemoral species tend to dominate slopes facing south - west and on good soil, while the boreal species dominate on slopes facing north and on waterlogged soil. In some areas other factors overrule this, as in areas where the bedrock gives little nutritients, where oak and the boreal pine often share domination. The boreonemoral zone follows the coast from Oslofjord north to Ålesund, becoming discountineous north of Sunnmøre. In Oslo, this zone reaches an elevation of 200 m above sea, and it also reaches into some of the lower valleys and just reaches the lowland around Mjøsa, but not as far north as Lillehammer. In the valleys of the south, this vegetation might exist up to 300 - 400 m above sea level. The zone follows the lowland of the west coast and into the largest fjords, reaching an elevation of 150 m here, even 300 meter in some sheltered fjords and valleys in Nordmøre with nutritients-rich soil. The northernmost locations in the world are several areas along the Trondheimsfjord, such as Frosta, and the northernmost single location is Byahalla in Steinkjer. Some nemoral species in this zone are English oak, sessile oak, European ash, elm, Norway maple, hazel, black alder, lime, yew, holly (southwest coast), wild cherry, ramsons, beech (a late arriver and only common in Vestfold) and Primula vulgaris. Typical boreal species are Norway spruce, pine, downy birch, grey alder, aspen, rowan, wood anemone and Viola riviniana.


The boreal species are adapted to the long and cold winter, and most of these species can tolerate colder winter temperatures than winters in most of Norway; thus they are distinguished by their need for growing season length and summer warmth. Bogs are common in the boreal zone, with the largest areas in the North and Middle Boreal Zones, as well as in the area just above the tree line. The large boreal zone is usually divided into three subzones:

South Boreal

Lågendeltaet in Lillehammer, south boreal vegetation zone.

The South Boreal zone (SB) is dominated by boreal species, especially Norway spruce, and covers a total of 12% of the land area. The SB is the only boreal zone with a few scattered - but well-developed - warmth-demanding broadleaf deciduous trees, such as European Ash and Oak. A number of species in this zone needs fairly warm summers (SB has 3–4 months with a mean 24-hr temperature of at least 10 °C), and thus are not to be found or are very rare in the middle boreal zone. Some of the species not to be found further north are black alder, hop, oregano and guelder rose. This zone is found above the hemiboreal zone, up to 450 meter amsl in Østlandet and 500 m in the most southern valleys. In the eastern valleys it reaches several hundred kilometers into Gudbrandsdal and Østerdal, and up to Lom and Skjåk in Ottadalen. Along the southwestern coast, the zone reaches an elevation of 400 at the head of the large fjords (as in Lærdal), and about 300 m nearer to the coast. Norway spruce is lacking in Vestlandet (Voss is an exception). North of Ålesund, SB vegetation dominates in the lowland down to sea level, including the islands like Hitra. Most of the lowland in Trøndelag below 180 m elevation is SB, up to 300 m above sea level in the inland vallys such as Gauldalen and Verdalen, and up to 100 m in Namdalen. The coastal areas and some fjord areas further north, such as Vikna, Brønnøy and the best locations along the Helgeland coast is SB north to the mouth of Ranfjord, while inland areas north of Grong are dominated by Middle Boreal zone in the lowland. There are small isolated areas with SB vegetation further north, as in Bodø and Fauske; the most northern location is a narrow strip along the northern shore of Ofotfjord. The endemic Nordland-whitebeam only grows in Bindal[20]. Agriculture in Norway, including grain cultivation, takes place mostly in the hemiboreal and SB zone.

In most of Norway, the middle boreal zone is dominated by spruce forest, but with some agriculture as well. September in Elsfjord, Vefsn.

Middle Boreal

The typical closed-canopy forest of the Middle Boreal (MB) zone is dominated by boreal plant species. The MB vegetation covers a total of 20% of the land area. Norway spruce is the dominant tree in large areas in the interior of Østlandet, Sørlandet, Trøndelag and Helgeland; the MB and SB spruce dominated forest is the commercially most important forest in Norway. Spruce does not grow naturally north of Saltfjell in mid-Nordland (the siberian spruce variant occurs in the Pasvik valley) due to mountain ranges blocking the advance, but is often planted in MB areas further north for economic reasons, contributing to a different landscape. Birch is usually dominant in these northern areas, but pine, aspen, rowan, bird cherry and grey alder are also common. This MB birch is often a cross between silver birch and downy birch and is larger (6 – 12 m) than the birch growing near the tree line; conifers will grow taller. Some alpine plants grow in the MB zone, nemoral species are rare. The understory is usually well developed if the forest is not too dense, and many plants do not grow further north. Grey alder, silver birch, yellow bedstraw, raspberry, mugwort and Myrica gale are examples of species in this zone which do not grow further north or higher up. MB is located at an altitude of 400 - 750 m in Østlandet, up to 800 m in the southern valleys, from 300 m to 600 m (800 m at the head of the long fjords) on the southwest coast, and from 180 - 450 m in Trøndelag (700 m in the interior, as in Røros and Oppdal). Further north, MB is common in the lowland, up to 100 m above sea level in Lofoten and Vesterålen, 200 m above sea level in Narvik, 100 m in Tromsø, 130 m - 200 m in inland valleys in Troms, and the lowland at the head of Altafjord is the most northerly area of any size; small pockets exist in Porsanger and Sør-Varanger. This is usually the most northerly area with some farming activity, and Barley was traditionally grown even as far north as Alta.

North Boreal

Madiijavri in Karasjok; this area has the most continental climate in Norway; north boreal zone.
North boreal forest in Øvre Dividal National Park; the autumn colored leaves of the mountain birch continues upslope as the pine reaches its limit.

The North Boreal (NB) zone, (also known as open or sparse taiga) is the zone closest to the tree line, bordering the alpine or polar area and dominated by a harsh subarctic climate. There are at least 30 days with a mean of 10 °C or more (summer) and up to about 2 months. The trees grow very slow and generally do not get very large; the forest is not as dense as further south or at lower altitude, and is known as the mountain forest (No:Fjellskog). The NB zone covers a total of 28% of the land area in Norway, including almost half of Finnmark, where the mountain birch is growing down to sea level. The lower part of this zone also has conifers, but the tree line in Norway is mostly formed by mountain birch, a subspecies of downy birch (ssp. czerepanovii [5]; not to be confused with dwarf birch). Spruce and pine make up the tree line in some mountain areas with a more continental climate. Alpine plants are common in this zone. Birch forest at 1,320 m above sea level at Sikilsdalshorn is the highest tree line in Norway. The tree line is lower closer to the coast and in areas with lower mountains due to cooler summers, more wind near mountain summits, and more snow in the winter (coastal mountains) leading to later snowmelt. The NB zone is located at 750 - 950 m altitude in the interior of Østlandet and covers large areas; at 800 - 1200 m in the central mountain areas; but at the western coast the tree line is down to about 500 m above sea level, increasing significantly into the long fjords (1,100 m at the head of Sognefjord). Further north, large areas in the interior highlands or uplands of Trøndelag and North Norway is dominated by the NB zone, with the tree line at about 800 m amsl in the interior of Trøndelag, 600 m in Rana, 500 m in Narvik, 400 m in Tromsø, 100 m in Hammerfest (only pockets in sheltered areas) and 200 m in Kirkenes. The large Finnmarksvidda plateau is at an altitude placing it almost exactly at the tree line. The last patch of NB zone gives way to tundra at sea level about 10 km south of the North Cape plateau (near Skarsvåg); areas south of this line is tundra-like with scattered patches of mountain birch woodland (forest tundra) and becomes alpine tundra even at minor elevations. The trees near the tree line is often bent by snow, wind and growing season frost; height is only 2 – 4 m. Outside Norway (and adjacent areas in Sweden), the only other areas in the world with the tree line mostly made up by a small-leaved deciduous tree like birch - in contrast to conifers - are Iceland and the Kamtschatka peninsula.

A conifer tree line is sometimes used (No: Barskoggrense) to divide this zone into two subzones, as the conifers will (usually) not grow as high up as the mountain birch. Spruce and pine grow at nearly 1,100 m above sea level in some areas of Jotunheimen, down to 400 m in Bergen (900 m at the head of Sognefjord), 900 m in Lillehammer (mountains near Oslo too low to observe a tree line), 500 m in Trondheim (750 m in Oppdal), 350 m in Narvik, 200 m in Harstad, 250 m in Alta and the most northerly pine forest in the world is in Stabbursdalen National Park in Porsanger. There are some forestry in this part of the NB zone; some conifers can grow quite large even if growth is slow.

Boreal ecoregions

The boreal zones in Norway belongs to three ecoregions: The area dominated by coniferous forests (some birch, willow, aspen) mostly belong to the Scandinavian and Russian taiga PA0608 ecoregion. The Scandinavian coastal conifer forests PA0520 ecoregion in coastal and fjord areas with mild winters follows the coast from south of Stavanger and north to southern Troms and includes both hemiboreal and boreal areas. The area above the conifer tree line is made up by mountain birch Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii (No: fjellbjørkeskog) and belong to the Scandinavian Montane Birch forest and grasslands PA1110 tundra ecoregion. This region is sometimes used for the entire area outside the range of spruce forests, erroneously labeling the MB and lower part of NB vegetation areas as tundra. Restricting the PA1110 ecoregion to include areas above the conifer tree line, this region still make up approximately 45% of the mainland.

Musk ox in the low alpine tundra at Dovrefjell.


Alpine tundra is common in Norway, covering a total of 32% of the land area (excluding Svalbard and Jan Mayen) and belonging to the Scandinavian Montane Birch forest and grasslands PA1110 ecoregion. The area closest to the tree line (low alpine) has continuous plant cover, with willow species such as Salix glauca, S. lanata and S. lapponum 0.5 meter tall; blueberry, common juniper and twinflower are common. The low alpine area was traditionally used as summer pastures, and partly still is. This zone reaches an elevation of 1,500 m in Jotunheimen and includes most of Hardangervidda, it reaches 1,300 m in eastern Trollheimen and about 800 m in Narvik and the Lyngen Alps. Higher up (mid-alpine tundra) the plants become smaller, mosses and lichens are more predominant; plants still cover most of the ground even if snowfields last into mid-summer and permafrost are common. At the highest elevations (high-alpine tundra) the ground is dominated by bare rock, snow and glaciers, with few plants.

The Arctic desert on Nordaustlandet.

The highest altitude weather station in Norway, Fanaråken in Luster at 2062 m, barely have three months above freezing and a July average of 2.7 °C. Still, glacier buttercup has been found only 100 m below the summit of Galdhøpiggen, and mosses and lichens have been found at the summit.

High alpine tundra in Hurrungane.

In northeastern Finnmark (northern half of the Varanger Peninsula and Nordkyn peninsula) is a small lowland tundra area which is often considered part of the Kola Peninsula tundra PA1106 ecoregion. Svalbard and Jan Mayen have tundra vegetation except for areas covered by glaciers, and some areas, like the cliffs at southern Bear Island, are fertilized by sea bird colonies. This tundra is often considered part of the Arctic Desert PA1101 ecoregion. The most lush areas on these Arctic islands are sheltered fjord areas at Spitsbergen; they have the highest summer temperatures and the very dry climate ensures little snow and thus comparatively early snowmelt. The short growing season and the permafrost underneath the active layer still ensures enough moisture; plants include dwarf birch, cloudberry, Svalbard poppy and harebell.

A warmer climate would push the vegetation zones significantly northwards and upwards [21].

Natural resources

In addition to oil and natural gas, hydroelectric power, and fish and forest resources, Norway has reserves of ferric and nonferric metal ores. Many of these have been exploited in the past but are now idle because of low metal content and high operating costs. Europe's largest ilmenite (titanium) deposits are near the southwest coast. Coal is mined in the Svalbard islands.

Resources: Petroleum, copper, natural gas, pyrites, nickel, iron ore, zinc, lead, fish, timber, hydropower.

Land use

Coastal lowland near the Trondheimsfjord.
Coastal heath at Utsira, partly reforested with non-native conifers

arable land: 3.3% (in use; some more marginal areas are not in use or used as pastures)
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 0%
forests and woodland: 38% of land area is covered by forest; 21% by conifer forest, 17% deciduous forest [22],[23]; increasing as many pastures in the higher elevations and some coastal, man-made heaths are no longer used or reforested, and due to warmer summers.
other: 59% (mountains and heaths 46%, bogs and wetlands 6.3%, lakes and rivers 5.3%, urban areas 1.1%). Source: Moen et al.: Vegetasjon: National Atlas of Norway)

Irrigated land: 970 km² (1993 est.)

Natural hazards:

  • Winter storms with hurricane strength wind speed along the coast and in the mountains are not uncommon. For centuries one out of four males in coastal communities were lost at sea.
  • Avalanches on steep slopes, especially in the northern part of the country and in mountain areas. 16 Norwegian soldiers on exercise were killed by an avalanche in Vassdalen in Narvik municipality on March 5 1986.
  • Landslides have on occasions killed people, mostly in areas with soil rich in marine clay, as in lowland areas near Trondheimsfjord.
  • Tsunamis have killed people; usually caused by parts of mountains (rockslide) falling into fjords or lakes. This happened 1905 in Loen in Stryn when parts of Ramnefjell fell into Loenvatnet lake, causing a 40 m tsunami which killed 61 people. It happened again the same place in 1936, this time with 73 victims. 40 people were killed in Tafjord in Norddal in 1934.


Current issues

Environmental concerns in Norway include how to cut greenhouse gas emissions, pollution of the air and water, loss of habitat, damage to cold water coral reefs from trawlers, and salmon fish farming threatening the wild salmon by spawning in the rivers, thereby diluting the local DNA. Acid rain has damaged lakes, rivers and forest, especially in the southernmost part of the country, and most wild salmon populations in Sørlandet have died. Due to lower emissions in Europe, acid rain in Norway has decreased by 40% from 1980 to 2003 [24]. Another concern is a possible increase in extreme weather. In the future, climate models [25] predict increased precipitation, especially in the areas with current high precipitation, and also predict more episodes with heavy precipitation within a short time span, which can cause landslides and local floods. Winters will probably be significant milder, and the sea ice cover in the Arctic ocean might melt altogether in summer, threatening the survival of the polar bear on Svalbard. Both terrestrial and aquatic species are expected to shift northwards, and this is already observed for some species: migratory birds arriving earlier, trees coming into leaf earlier, Mackerel becoming common in summer off the coast of Troms, the growing red deer population is spreading northwards and eastwards and 2008 was the first hunting season which saw more red deer (35,700) than moose shot [26]. The total number of species in Norway are expected to rise due to new species arriving [27] . Norwegians are statistically among the world's most worried when it comes to global warming and its effects[28], even if Norway is among the countries expected to be least negatively affected by global warming, with some possible gains [29].

International agreements

Except for Denmark and some urban areas, population density in the Nordic countries is low, especially in the north.

party to: Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, 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, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol

Major cities/towns (ranked by size)

Geography - note: Strategic location adjacent to sea lanes and air routes in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Norwegian geography in fiction

  • In Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, scenes from the ice planet Hoth were filmed at Finse, Norway.
  • The car chase between James Bond and the villain in the James Bond film Die Another Day was shot in Svalbard.

See also

Briksdalsbreen, one of the arms of Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier on the European mainland. The largest glaciers in Norway are on Svalbard.


  • Tollefsrud, J.; Tjørve, E.; Hermansen, P.: Perler i Norsk Natur - En Veiviser. Aschehoug, 1991. ISBN 82-03-16663-6
  • Gjærevoll, Olav. "Plantegeografi". Tapir, 1992. ISBN 82-519-1104-4
  • Moen, A. 1998. Nasjonalatlas for Norge: Vegetasjon. Statens Kartverk, Hønefoss. ISBN 82-90408-26-9
  • Norwegian Meteorological Institute ([6]).
  • Bjørbæk, G. 2003. Norsk vær i 110 år. N.W. DAMM & Sønn. ISBN 82-04-08695-4
  • Førland, E.. Variasjoner i vekst og fyringsforhold i Nordisk Arktis. Regclim/Cicerone 6/2004.
  • University of Oslo. Almanakk for Norge Gyldendal fakta. ISBN 82-05-35494-4

External links


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