Official name: Kingdom of Sweden
Area: 449,964 square kilometers (173,732 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Kebnekaise (2,111 meters/6,926 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 1,574 kilometers (978 miles) from north to south, 499 kilometers (310 miles) from east to west
Land boundaries: 2,205 kilometers (1,370 miles) total boundary length; Finland 586 kilometers (364 miles); Norway 1,619 kilometers (1,006 miles)
Coastline: 3,218 kilometers (2,000 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
1 LOCATION AND SIZE
Sweden is located on the Scandinavian Peninsula of northern Europe, between the countries of Norway and Finland. With a total area of about 449,964 square kilometers (173,732 square miles), the country is slightly larger than the state of California. Sweden is administratively divided into twenty-one counties.
2 TERRITORIES AND DEPENDENCIES
Sweden has no outside territories or dependencies.
Because of the influence of the ocean current known as the North Atlantic Drift and the prevailing air currents, Sweden's average temperatures are warmer than similar northern countries that lie further inland. In winter, the average temperature in southern Sweden is -3°C (26°F). In summer, the average temperature there is 18°C (64°F). Norrland (northern Sweden) is much colder, with a winter season that extends for up to eight months, with snow remaining on the ground for about six months.
Annual rainfall averages 61 centimeters (24 inches). The western part of the country along the border with Norway experiences the country's heaviest precipitation.
4 TOPOGRAPHIC REGIONS
The largest of the Scandinavian countries and the fourth-largest country in Europe, Sweden is one of the countries located farthest from the equator. It extends from north to south at roughly the same latitude as Alaska, with about 15 percent of its total area situated north of the Arctic Circle.
The most notable of Sweden's geographical features is its length, which the Swedes speak of as vart avlanga land (our long, drawn-out land). It shares this and many other features with its western twin in Scandinavia, Norway, but Sweden is a land of lower altitudes and less dissected relief than Norway.
Four topographical divisions can be discerned in the country, although they are of unequal size. The largest is Norrland, the northern three-fifths of Sweden. Characterized by a landscape of hills and mountains, forests, and large river valleys, it stretches roughly from the lower reaches of the Dal River northward. Svealand, or central Sweden, constitutes the second region. It is made up of lowlands dotted with thousands of lakes. Småland in the south is the third region. It is an area of forested hills. The fourth region is in the southernmost part of the country and is known as Skåne (Scania). Topographically, it is a continuation of the fertile plains of Denmark and northern Germany.
Sweden is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate.
5 OCEANS AND SEAS
Seacoast and Undersea Features
The east and south coasts of Sweden lie on the Baltic Sea, which is linked to the North Sea by the narrow and shallow straits of the Kattegat and the Skagerrak. The Gulf of Bothnia, between Sweden and Finland, is the northern-most extension of the Baltic Sea. All of these bodies of water are considered to be extensions of the Atlantic Ocean.
Sea Inlets and Straits
The Kattegat lies along the southwest shore of Sweden. As it reaches the northernmost extent of Denmark, the Kattegat flows into the Skagerrak Strait, a triangular body of water that lies between Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The Kattegat and Skagerrak are considered part of the North Sea. The channel of water separating Denmark and Sweden and linking the Kattegat Strait with the Baltic Sea is the Öresund Strait.
Islands and Archipelagos
Like other Scandinavian countries, Sweden has many islands. The archipelago of Stockholm shows the most intense concentration of islands, the outermost of which are separated from their Finnish counterparts by the Åland Sea. In contrast, the western coast archipelago of Bohusian is a skerry (rocky reef) zone where the ice, waves, and winds have left the skerries bald in appearance.
Of all the Swedish islands, Gotland (3,173 square kilometers/1,225 square miles) is the largest and occupies a special and central place. Although it has a plateau appearance and is skirted with limestone cliffs, it has some of the finest beaches in the Baltic. Its principal town is Visby. Öland Island, not far off of Sweden's southeastern coast, is the second-largest island at 1,344 square kilometers (519 square miles).
The Bothnian coastal plain merges almost imperceptibly into the sea. Both the littoral (the coastal region of the ocean) and estuaries are crowded with islands. The Bothnian coast may be divided into lower, middle, and upper sections; the middle section extends from Örnsköldsvik to Skellefteå. The area around Örnsköldsvik is designated as the High Coast. It is an UNESCO World Heritage site because of its ongoing geological process of uplift. After the ice retreated from Sweden 9,600 years ago, geologists believe the land was about 285 meters (940 feet) lower than it is today. In some areas, the land is rising as much as 1 meter (3 feet) per century.
6 INLAND LAKES
Sweden has nearly one hundred thousand lakes. They are found throughout the country, but central Sweden in particular is a scatter zone of lakes and plains. The four largest lakes in the country are found here: Vänern, Vättern, Hjälmaren, and Mälaren. Vänern (3,593 square kilometers/1,387 square miles) and Vättern (1911 square kilometers/738 square miles) are among the four largest lakes in Europe. Vänern has an outlet to the west by way of the Göta River. It claims Sweden's largest catchment area. Lake Mälaren (1,140 square kilometers/440 square miles) lies only about 0.6 meters (2 feet) above the average level of the Baltic Sea. The capital city of Stockholm is located along the strait that connects the lake to the sea. Archaeological evidence suggests that this lake and plains region was the core of early Swedish settlements.
The depressions of the Norrland region are filled by lakes, most of which lie somewhat more than 305 meters (1,000 feet) above the level of the Baltic. The largest of these, located in the Western Highlands, are the Torn Träsk (317 square kilometers/122 square miles) in the north, the Storsjön (456 square kilometers/ 176 square miles) in the south, and between them, the interconnected trio of Hornavan, Uddjaur, and Storavan (660 square kilometers/ 255 square miles).
The largest lake in southern Sweden, lying at 142 meters (469 feet) above sea level with a depth of 37 meters (111 feet), is Lake Bolmen (184 square kilometers/71 square miles).
7 RIVERS AND WATERFALLS
The rivers flowing in Norrland (northern Sweden) include the Torne, the Lule, the Skellefte, the Göta, the Ume (and its tributary, the Vindel), the Ångerman, the Ljungan, and the Dal. All flow generally southeast from the high elevations along the border with Norway until they empty into the Gulf of Bothnia. Waterfalls and rapids punctuate the rivers. The Torne and its tributaries form the border with Finland. The Göta River cuts through rocky wilderness into the lowlands of Svealand. The Trollhättan Falls (33 meters/108 feet) on the Göta River are indicative of the change in level between Vänern and the lowlands along the Skagerrak in the west. For decades, lumber-jacks have used The Klar, which flows south from Norway to Lake Vänern, to floati harvested logs downstream; this river also is a favorite spot for recreational rafting.
The rivers flowing in the southern and western part of the country are shorter than those in the north. They include the Viskan, Ätran, Nissan, and Lagan, all well-known for their abundant salmon.
There are no desert regions in Sweden.
9 FLAT AND ROLLING TERRAIN
Extensive plains such as Uppland (centered on Uppsala), Västmanland, and Narke are found throughout Svealand, the region dotted by numerous lakes. Väster-Götland and Öster-Götland (East and West Götland, not to be confused with the island of Gotland) are also grassland regions. South of Lake Vättern lie the faulted landscapes of Skäne, which, although fertile, and resembling the Danish plains across the Öresund, have areas of much more pronounced relief.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Arctic Circle is the imaginary line that circles the globe at about 66.5°N latitude. Areas north of the circle experience the phenomenon known as midnight sun, which is a period of time when the sun is visible for twenty-four hours or longer. During the summer solstice (usually on June 21 or 22) the sun is visible on the horizon at midnight from all points along the Arctic Circle. As you move further north, seasons of sunshine get longer, so that at the North Pole, there are six months of continuous sunshine, from the vernal equinox (usually on March 21 or 22) until the autumnal equinox (usually on September 21 or 22). The Arctic Circle also serves as a boundary between the North Temperate and the North Frigid climate zones.
The extreme north of Norrland, north of the Arctic Circle, contains a region of wetland and tundra landscape, with large peat marshes covering 40 percent of the land.
Småland in southeastern Sweden is an area of lower highlands, with elevations generally less than 152 meters (500 feet). It separates the plains of Skåne in the southernmost part of the country from the more extensive lowlands of Svealand to the north.
10 MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES
Norrland, the northern region of Sweden, covers about 60 percent of Sweden's territory and includes the areas of highest elevation. The western highlands of Norrland follow the Norwegian frontier and rise to elevations of over 1,818 meters (6,000 feet), of which the highest is Kebnekaise at 2,111 meters (6,926 feet). The terrain slopes to the southeast, away from the Kölen (Kjølen) Mountains along the border with Norway, to the Gulf of Bothnia. The flow of rivers in this region have incised the surface and leveled much of the terrain to a plateau. There are a number of small icefields in the far northern reaches above 66° N latitude.
11 CANYONS AND CAVES
Sweden has a number of caves that are classified as neotectonic caves. Earthquakes or other shifts of the tectonic plates (particularly those that cause land elevations) formed these caves sometime within the last eight thousand to ten thousand years, which means they are relatively new land formations. Examples of these types of caves in Sweden are Torkulla Kyrka, Gillberga Gryt, and Bodagrottorna.
Korallgrottan (Coral Cave) is the longest cave in Sweden. This limestone (or karst) cave is located in the northern part of the province of Jämtland, close to the city of Ankarvattnet. The explored portion of the cave measures about 4,503 meters (14,774 feet) long with a depth of about 125 meters (408 feet). The unexplored part of the cave is estimated to be another 300 meters (984 feet) long. There is also a siphon connection (a water passage) between Korallgrottan and a second cave known as Klyftgrottan. This second area has not been explored completely either. Speleologists (scientists who study caves) believe that the total length of both caves is about 5,300 meters (17,388 feet). The cave, which was discovered in 1985, has not yet been opened to the public.
DID YOU KNOW?
Scandinavia is the region in northern Europe that includes the Scandinavian Peninsula and its surrounding countries. The countries of Norway and Sweden are the only two countries located on the Scandinavian Peninsula. Denmark, Finland, and Iceland are included as part of Scandinavia because of common cultural links between the nations.
The Tykarpsgrottan (Tykarps Cave) is located near the southern point of Sweden in the town of Hässleholm, north and northeast of Malmö and Helsingborg. This cave was a limestone mine from about the twelfth century to the late-nineteenth century. The limestone, which is somewhat rare in the Scandinavian countries, was used both as building material and also to create mortar and white powder for paint coloring. The area around the cave is now a park-like recreation area. Visitors to the cave must be careful not to disturb any of the bats that now live in the cave. Of the fifteen different species of bats found in Scandinavia, seven different types can be found in the caving area. All of the bats are legally protected.
The copper mine in Falun, known as the Great Pit, and the entire mining town of Falun are listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Mining there began from about the thirteenth century, and the area was considered to be one of the world's most important mining areas well into the seventeenth century.
12 PLATEAUS AND MONOLITHS
Fulufjäll, a 35-kilometer- (22-mile-) long and 15-kilometer- (9-mile-) wide sandstone plateau in the center of the country near the Norwegian border, rises to a height of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet). Steep slopes and forested ravines surround it.
13 MAN-MADE FEATURES
The Göta Canal, built in the early 1800s, is a 613-kilometer- (383-mile-) long waterway from Göteborg to Stockholm, formed by linking lakes and other natural waterways with a series of canals. The system never had any real economic purpose and is now used primarily by tourists. Several dozen locks compensate for the 90-meter (330-feet) difference in elevation between the two cities.
The Öresund Fixed Link is a bridge-and-tunnel combination that crosses the Öresund Strait to connect Malmö in Sweden to Copenhagen in Denmark. The 16-kilometer- (10-mile-) long link includes the longest single bridge in the world that carries both road and rail traffic (about 8 kilometers/5 miles) The link became fully operational in 2000. Before construction of the link, commuters could make the crossing only by ferry; the ride took about an hour. Motorists can now cross the bridge in about ten minutes.
14 FURTHER READING
Alderton, Mary. Sweden. London: A. & C. Black, 1995.
Frommer's Sweden. New York: Macmillan, 1999.
Williams, Brian. Guide to Sweden. Jackson, TN: Davidson, 2000.
Belt, Don. "Sweden." National Geographic, August 1993, 2-35.
Arctic Sweden: The Arctic Connection . http://www.arcticconnection.com/Countries/sweden.shtml (accessed April 17, 2003).
Höga Kusten (The High Coast). http://www.highcoast.net (accessed April 17, 2003).