Finland is a sovereign Nordic, but not Scandinavian, country in the northeast of continental Europe. With almost a quarter of its territory north of the Arctic Circle, Finland is one of the most northerly countries of the world. A 1200 km land border separates Finland from its neighbor to the east (Russia), while the coastline of the Baltic Sea forms its natural boundary to the south and halfway up its western edge. Moving further north, the Gulf of Bothnia ends and the Tornio River serves as the border between Swedish Lapland and western Finland. Finland's northern border is with Norway's Finnmark Province, which occupies a narrow coastal region between the Arctic Ocean and Finland's province of Lappin laani. With an area of 338,144 km2 and roughly situated between 60° and 70° N, Finland is the world's 63rd largest country, but populationwise (just over 5 million inhabitants) it only ranks 104 among the world's most populous countries in the year 2000.
Finland's highest peak, the 1328 m high Halti, is located in Finland's northwest, but true mountain ranges or glaciers are absent. Most of the country is low-lying with relatively little topographic variation, although a flat western coastal plain can be distinguished from the rugged fells of Lapland in the north, the undulating landscape of central Finland with its multitude of lakes, and the flat, rocky southern island archipelago or skerries. About 10% of Finland's total area is occupied by lakes, of which at least 188,000 have names. Although most of the lakes are small, some like Lake Saimaa (the fourth largest in Europe and home to a unique subspecies of freshwater seal) and Lake Inari are substantial and contain numerous islands, which themselves have lakes. Most of the lakes are shallow, with Lake Paajarvi being an exception at nearly 100 m depth. In the Archipelago Sea at the connection between the Gulf of Bothnia and the central Baltic Sea, more than 80,000 islands and islets are to be found. With an area of 1481 km2, the self-governing Aland/Ahvenanmaa Islands is the largest group of these islands. The reason for Finland's large number of lakes and islands as well as its serrated coastline has to be sought in the last Ice Age. An enormous volume of ice not only carried off virtually all topsoil 14-10,000 years ago and scraped the 1800-1900 million year old bedrock clean, but it also depressed the land to such an extent that when the ice was removed the land could noticeably rebound. This uplift continues to this day and it has been calculated that 7 km2 of land area is added to Finland each year. Archaeologists in Finland have located the remains of fishing villages up to 60 km inland, dramatically demonstrating where the coastline had been 5000 years ago.
Rivers in Finland are relatively short, but many play an important role economically. Most of the rivers (91%) discharge into the Baltic Sea; the remainder, flowing northward like the Tana or eastward like the Ivalo, end in the Arctic Ocean or the White Sea. With a total length of 552 km, the longest Finnish river is the Kemijoki-Kitinen; other important rivers, originating in Finland and flowing into the Baltic Sea, are the Ii and the Oulu-River. Rock shelters in boulders and bedrock are relatively common in Finland and are due to weathering, but actual limestone caves are extremely rare and confined to the Aland/Ahvenanmaa Archipelago and the south of Finland, for example, the Torhola Grotto. Seismically, Finland is a quiet place;
there are no volcanoes and no major earthquakes (minor tremors have, however, been felt on some occasions in the east of the country).
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