Geography of Finland

Last updated
Geography of Finland
Continent Europe
Region Northern Europe
Coordinates 60°10′N24°56′E / 60.167°N 24.933°E / 60.167; 24.933
  Total338,424 km2 (130,666 sq mi)
Coastline1,250 km (780 mi)
Borders Total land borders:
2,563 km (1,593 mi)
Highest point Haltitunturi
1,328 m (4,357 ft)
Lowest point Baltic Sea
0 meters
Longest river Kemijoki River
550 km (340 mi)
Largest lake Saimaa
4,400 km2 (1,700 sq mi)
Exclusive economic zone87,171 km2 (33,657 sq mi)

The geography of Finland is characterized by its northern position, its ubiquitous landscapes of intermingled boreal forests and lakes, and its low population density. Finland can be divided into three areas: archipelagoes and coastal lowlands, a slightly higher central lake plateau and uplands to north and northeast. Bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, and Gulf of Finland, as well as Sweden, Norway, and Russia, Finland is the northernmost country in the European Union. Most of the population and agricultural resources are concentrated in the south. Northern and eastern Finland are sparsely populated containing vast wilderness areas. Taiga forest is the dominant vegetation type.


Size and external boundaries

Map of Finland - click to enlarge Map of Finland-en.svg
Map of Finland – click to enlarge

Finland's total area is 337,030 km2 (130,128 sq mi). Of this area 10% is water, 69% forest, 8% cultivated land and 13% other. Finland is the eighth largest country in Europe after Russia, France, Ukraine, Spain, Sweden, Norway and Germany.

As a whole, the shape of Finland's boundaries resembles a figure of a one-armed human. In Finnish, parallels are drawn between the figure and the national personification of Finland – Finnish Maiden (Suomi-neito) – and the country as a whole can be referred in the Finnish language by her name. Even in official context the area around Enontekiö in northwestern part of the country between Sweden and Norway can be referred to as the "Arm" (käsivarsi). After the Continuation War Finland lost major land areas to Russia in the Moscow Armistice of 1944, and the figure was said to have lost the other of her arms, as well as a hem of her "skirt".

Relief and geology


Effects of the last ice age: glacial striations in a country without glaciers. Ice-age glacial striation in Finland.jpg
Effects of the last ice age: glacial striations in a country without glaciers.

The bedrock of Finland belong to the Baltic Shield [1] and was formed by a succession of orogenies in Precambrian time. [2] The oldest rocks of Finland, those of Archean age, are found in the east and north. These rocks are chiefly granitoids and migmatitic gneiss. [1] Rocks in central and western Finland originated or came to place during the Svecokarelian orogeny. [1] Following this last orogeny Rapakivi granites intruded various locations of Finland during the Mesoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic, specially at Åland and the southeast. [1] So-called Jotnian sediments occur usually together with Rapakivi granites. [3] The youngest rocks in Finland are those found in the northwestern arm which belong to Scandinavian Caledonides that assembled in Paleozoic times. [2] During the Caledonian orogeny Finland was likely a sunken foreland basin covered by sediments, subsequent uplift and erosion would have eroded all of these sediments. [4]

Relief and hydrography

About one third of Finland lies below 100 m, and about two thirds lies under 200 m. [1] Finland can be divided into three topographical areas; the coastal landscapes, the interior lake plateau also known as Finnish lake district and Upland Finland. [1] The coastal landscapes are made up mostly of plains below 20 m. These plains tilt gently towards the sea so that where its irregularities surpasses sea-level groups of islands like the Kvarken Archipelago or the Åland Islands are found. [1] Åland Islands is connected to the Finnish mainland by a shallow submarine plateau that does not exceed 20 m in depth. [5] Next to the Gulf of Bothnia the landscape of Finland is extremely flat with height differences no larger than 50 m. [6] This region called the Ostrobothnian Plain extends inland about 100 km and constitute the largest plain in the Nordic countries. [6]

The interior lake plateau is dominated by undulating hilly terrain with valley to top height differences of 100 or less and occasionally up to 200 m. [1] [6] Only the area around the lakes Pielinen and Päijänne stand with a subtly more pronounced relief. [6] The relief of the interior lake plateau bears some resemblance to the Swedish Norrland terrain. [1] Upland Finland and areas higher than 200 m are found mostly in the north and east of the country. A limited number of hills and mountains exceed 500 m in height in these regions. [6] Inselberg plains are common in the northern half of the country. [7] In the far north hills reach 200 to 400 m and the landscape is a förfjäll (fore-fell). [1] Only the extreme northwest contains a more dramatic mountain landscape. [8]

The subdued landscape of Finland is the result of protracted erosion that has leveled down ancient mountain massifs into near-flat landforms called peneplains. [2] The last major leveling event resulted in the formation of the Sub-Cambrian peneplain in Late Neoproterozoic time. [2] [9] While Finland has remained very close to sea-level since the formation of this last peneplain some further relief was formed by a slight uplift resulting in the carving of valleys by rivers. The slight uplift also means that at parts the uplifted peneplain can be traced as summit accordances. [2] The Quaternary ice ages resulted in the erosion of weak rock and loose materials by glaciers. When the ice masses retreated eroded depressions turned into lakes. [2] [upper-alpha 1] Fractures in Finland's bedrock were particularly affected by weathering and erosion, leaving as result trace straight sea and lake inlets. [2]

Except a few rivers along the coasts most rivers in Finland drain at some stage into one or more lakes. [8] The drainage basins drain into various directions. Much of Finland drains into the Gulf of Bothnia including the country's largest and longest rivers, Kokemäenjoki and Kemijoki respectively. [8] Finland's largest lake drains by Vuoksi River into Lake Ladoga in Russia. [1] [8] Upland Finland in the east drains east across Russian Republic of Karelia into the White Sea. [8] In the northeast Lake Inari discharges by Paatsjoki into Barents Sea in the Arctic. [8]

Localities in Finland by approximate date of deglaciation [11]
Year before presentDeglaciated
12,700 Helsinki, Kotka
11,000 Turku, Kuopio
10,900 Jyväskylä, Mariehamn, Tampere
10,800 Lake Inari
10,700All of Åland
10,500 Kajaani
10,300 Vasa, Oulu
10,200 Rovaniemi
10,100 Tornio

Quaternary glaciation

The ice sheet that covered Finland intermittently during the Quaternary grew out from the Scandinavian Mountains. [12] During the last deglaciation the first parts of Finland to become ice-free, the southeastern coast, did so slightly prior to the Younger Dryas cold-spell 12,700 years before present (BP). The retreat of the ice cover occurred simultaneously from the north-east, the east and southeast. The retreat was fastest from the southeast resulting in the lower course of Tornio being the last part of Finland to be deglaciated. Finally by 10,100 years BP the ice cover had all but left Finland to concentrate in Sweden and Norway before fading away. [11]

As the ice sheet became thinner and retreated the land begun to rise by effect of isostacy. Much of Finland was under water when the ice retreated and was gradually uplifted in a process that continues today. [13] [upper-alpha 2] Albeit not all areas were drowned at the same time it is estimated at time or another about 62% has been under water. [14] Depending on location in Finland the ancient shoreline reached different maximum heights. In southern Finland 150 to 160 m, in central Finland about 200 m and in eastern Finland up to 220 m. [13]


Finland map of Koppen climate classification. Finland Koppen.svg
Finland map of Köppen climate classification.

Latitude is the principal influence on Finland's climate. Because of Finland's northern location, winter is the longest season. Only in the south coast is summer as long as winter. On the average, winter lasts from early December to mid March in the archipelago and the southwestern coast and from early October to early May 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 millimetres (19.7 to 23.6 in) of precipitation in the north to fall as snow. Precipitation in the south amounts to about 600 to 700 millimetres (23.6 to 27.6 in) annually. Like that of the north, it occurs all through the year, though not so much of it is snow. [15]

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, occasionally causing severe winters and high temperatures in the summer. [15]

The highest ever recorded temperature is 37.2 °C (99.0 °F) (Liperi, 29 July 2010). [16] The lowest, −51.5 °C (−60.7 °F) (Kittilä, 28 January 1999). The annual middle temperature is relatively high in the southwestern part of the country (5.0 to 7.5 °C or 41.0 to 45.5 °F), with quite mild winters and warm summers, and low in the northeastern part of Lapland (0 to −4 °C or 32 to 25 °F).

Temperature extremes for every month: [17]

Climate data for Finland
Record high °C (°F)10.9
Record low °C (°F)−51.5

Extreme highs:

Extreme lows:

Area and boundaries

There are some 187,888 lakes in Finland larger than 500 square metres and 75,818 islands of over 0,5 km2 area. Isojarvi panorama 3.jpg
There are some 187,888 lakes in Finland larger than 500 square metres and 75,818 islands of over 0,5 km2 area.

total:338,145 km2 (130,559 sq mi)
land:303,815 km2 (117,304 sq mi)
water:34,330 km2 (13,250 sq mi)

Area – comparative: slightly smaller than Germany, Montana, and Newfoundland and Labrador

Land boundaries:
total:2,563 km (1,593 mi)
border countries: Norway 709 km (441 mi), Sweden 545 km (339 mi), Russia 1,309 km (813 mi)

An aerial photograph of Naantali Archipelago, Archipelago Sea Lempisaari, Naantali, Finland..jpg
An aerial photograph of Naantali Archipelago, Archipelago Sea

Coastline:1,250 km (780 mi)

Maritime claims:
Territorial sea:12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi), 3 nmi (5.56 km; 3.45 mi) in the Gulf of Finland; there is a stretch of international waters between Finnish and Estonian claims; Bogskär has separate internal waters and 3 nmi of territorial waters
Contiguous zone:24  nmi (44.4 km; 27.6 mi)
Exclusive economic zone:87,171 km2 (33,657 sq mi); extends to continental shelf boundary with Sweden, Estonia, and Russia
Continental shelf:200 m (660 ft) depth or to the depth of exploitation

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Baltic Sea 0 m
highest point: Haltitunturi 1,328 m (4,357 ft)

Resources and land use

Lake Inari, Lapland Lake Inari.jpg
Lake Inari, Lapland

Natural resources: timber, iron ore, copper, lead, zinc, chromite, nickel, gold, silver, limestone

Land use:
arable land: 7.40%
permanent crops: 0.01%
other: 92.59% (2012)

Irrigated land: 685.8 km2 (2010)

Total renewable water resources: 110 km3 (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 1.63 km3/yr (25%/72%/3%)
per capita: 308.9 m3/yr (2005)

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, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, Whaling, Air Pollution–Persistent Organic Pollutants (signed 2001, ratified 2002), [19] Climate Change–Kyoto Protocol (signed May 1998, ratified together with 14 other EU countries May 31, 2002). [20]

Other miscellaneous information


  1. Compare to southern Sweden where its large number of lakes would according to Alfred Gabriel Nathorst be indebted to the creation of basins due to the stripping of an irregular mantle of weathered rock by glacier erosion. [10]
  2. If current rates of uplift continue Sweden and Finland will have a land boundary across the Gulf of Bothnia at Kvarken in about 2,000 years. [13]

Related Research Articles

Baltic Sea Sea in Northern Europe

The Baltic Sea is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean, enclosed by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, northeast Germany, Poland, Russia and the North and Central European Plain.

Gulf of Finland Arm of the Baltic Sea

The Gulf of Finland is the easternmost arm of the Baltic Sea. It extends between Finland to the north and Estonia to the south, to Saint Petersburg in Russia to the east, where the river Neva drains into it. Other major cities around the gulf include Helsinki and Tallinn. The eastern parts of the Gulf of Finland belong to Russia, and some of Russia's most important oil harbours are located farthest in, near Saint Petersburg. As the seaway to Saint Petersburg, the Gulf of Finland has been and continues to be of considerable strategic importance to Russia. Some of the environmental problems affecting the Baltic Sea are at their most pronounced in the shallow gulf.

Vänern Largest lake in Sweden

Vänern is the largest lake in Sweden, the largest lake in the European Union and the third-largest lake entirely in Europe after Ladoga and Onega in Russia. It is located in the provinces of Västergötland, Dalsland, and Värmland in the southwest of the country.

Gulf of Bothnia

The Gulf of Bothnia is the northernmost arm of the Baltic Sea. It is situated between Finland's west coast (Ostrobothnia) and Sweden's east coast. In the south of the gulf lie the Åland Islands, between the Sea of Åland and the Archipelago Sea.

Lapland (Finland) Region of Finland

Lapland is the largest and northernmost region of Finland. The municipalities in the region cooperate in a Regional Council. There are 21 municipalities in Lapland region. Lapland borders the region of North Ostrobothnia in the south. It also borders the Gulf of Bothnia, Norrbotten County in Sweden, Troms and Finnmark County in Norway, and Murmansk Oblast and the Republic of Karelia in Russia. Topography varies from vast mires and forests of the South to fells in the North. The Arctic circle crosses Lapland, so polar phenomena such as the midnight sun and polar night can be seen in Lapland.

Baltic Shield A segment of the Earths crust in the East European Craton, representing a large part of Fennoscandia, northwestern Russia and the northern Baltic Sea

The Baltic Shield is a segment of the Earth's crust belonging to the East European Craton, representing a large part of Fennoscandia, northwestern Russia and the northern Baltic Sea. It is composed mostly of Archean and Proterozoic gneisses and greenstone which have undergone numerous deformations through tectonic activity. It contains the oldest rocks of the European continent with a thickness of 250-300 km.

Sodankylä Municipality in Lapland, Finland

Sodankylä is a municipality of Finland. It is located in the region of Lapland, and lies at the northern end of Highway 5 (E63) and along Highway 4 (E75). The Kitinen River flows near the center of Sodankylä. Its neighbouring municipalities are Inari, Kemijärvi, Kittilä, Pelkosenniemi, Rovaniemi, and Savukoski. The municipality has two official languages: Finnish and Northern Sami.

Shield (geology) A large stable area of exposed Precambrian crystalline rock

A shield is a large area of exposed Precambrian crystalline igneous and high-grade metamorphic rocks that form tectonically stable areas. These rocks are older than 570 million years and sometimes date back 2 to 3.5 billion years. They have been little affected by tectonic events following the end of the Precambrian, and are relatively flat regions where mountain building, faulting, and other tectonic processes are minor, compared with the activity at their margins and between tectonic plates.

Archipelago Sea A part of the Baltic Sea between the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland and the Sea of Åland, within Finnish territorial waters

The Archipelago Sea is a part of the Baltic Sea between the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland and the Sea of Åland, within Finnish territorial waters. By some definitions it contains the largest archipelago in the world by the number of islands, although many of the islands are very small and tightly clustered.

Bothnian Sea Southern part of the Gulf of Bothnia

The Bothnian Sea links the Bothnian Bay with the Baltic proper. Kvarken is situated between the two. Together, the Bothnian Sea and Bay make up a larger geographical entity, the Gulf of Bothnia, where the Bothnian Sea is the southern part. The whole Gulf of Bothnia is situated between Sweden, to the West, Finland, to the East, and the Sea of Åland and Archipelago Sea to the South. The surface area of Bothnian Sea is approximately 79,000 km². The largest coastal towns, from south to north, are Rauma and Pori in Finland, and Gävle and Sundsvall in Sweden. Umeå (Sweden) and Vaasa (Finland) lie in the extreme north, near Bothnian Bay.

Bothnian Bay

The Bothnian Bay or Bay of Bothnia is the northernmost part of the Gulf of Bothnia, which is in turn the northern part of the Baltic Sea. The land holding the bay is still rising after the weight of ice-age glaciers has been removed, and within 2,000 years the bay will be a large freshwater lake. The bay today is fed by several large rivers, and is relatively unaffected by tides, so has low salinity. It freezes each year for up to six months. Compared to other parts of the Baltic it has little plant or animal life.

Enontekiö Airport

Enontekiö Airport is an airport located in Enontekiö, Finnish Lapland, 5 NM west southwest of Hetta, the municipal centre of Enontekiö.

Weichselian glaciation

Weichselian glaciation refers to the last glacial period and its associated glaciation in northern parts of Europe. In the Alpine region it corresponds to the Würm glaciation. It was characterized by a large ice sheet that spread out from the Scandinavian Mountains and extended as far as the east coast of Schleswig-Holstein, the March of Brandenburg and Northwest Russia.

Scandinavian Mountains Mountain range in Finland, Norway and Sweden

The Scandinavian Mountains or the Scandes is a mountain range that runs through the Scandinavian Peninsula. The Scandinavian Mountains are often erroneously thought to be equivalent to the Scandinavian Caledonides, an ancient mountain range and orogen covering roughly the same area. The western sides of the mountains drop precipitously into the North Sea and Norwegian Sea, forming the fjords of Norway, whereas to the northeast they gradually curve towards Finland. To the north they form the border between Norway and Sweden, reaching 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) high at the Arctic Circle. The mountain range just touches northwesternmost Finland but are scarcely more than hills at their northernmost extension at the North Cape (Nordkapp).

Sub-Cambrian peneplain

The sub-Cambrian peneplain is an ancient, extremely flat, erosion surface (peneplain) that has been exhumed and exposed by erosion from under Cambrian strata over large swathes of Fennoscandia. Eastward, where this peneplain dips below Cambrian and other Lower Paleozoic cover rocks. The exposed parts of this peneplain are extraordinarily flat with relief of less than 20 m. The overlying cover rocks demonstrate that the peneplain was flooded by shallow seas during the Early Paleozoic. Being the oldest identifiable peneplain in its area the Sub-Cambrian peneplain qualifies as a primary peneplain.

The geology of the Baltic Sea is characterized by having areas located both at the Baltic Shield of the East European Craton and in the Danish-North German-Polish Caledonides. Historical geologists make a distinction between the current Baltic Sea depression, formed in the Cenozoic era, and the much older sedimentary basins whose sediments are preserved in the zone. Although glacial erosion has contributed to shape the present depression, the Baltic trough is largely a depression of tectonic origin that existed long before the Quaternary glaciation.

In north European geology, Jotnian sediments are a group of Precambrian rocks more specifically assigned to the Mesoproterozoic Era (Riphean), albeit some might be younger. Jotnian sediments include the oldest known sediments in the Baltic area that have not been subject to metamorphism. Stratigraphically, Jotnian sediments overlie the rapakivi granites and other igneous and metamorphic rocks and are often intruded by younger diabases.

Geology of Finland Overview of the geology of Finland

The geology of Finland is made up of a mix of geologically very young and very old materials. Common rock types are orthogneiss, granite, metavolcanics and metasedimentary rocks. On top of these lies is a widespread thin layer of unconsolidated deposits formed in connection to the Quaternary ice ages, for example eskers, till and marine clay. The topographic relief is rather subdued because mountain massifs were worn down to a peneplain long ago.


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