The 411 on Fjords

(Photo credit: Stefan Auth/imagebroker RF/Photolibrary)

Fjords are a spectacular part of the Norwegian landscape. (Photo credit: Stefan Auth/imagebroker RF/Photolibrary)

Fjord is a Norwegian word describing a long, narrow inlet of water with steep cliffs on either side. Norway has the world’s highest concentrations of fjords. The fjords formed over successive ice ages when seawater flooded the U-shaped valleys carved out by glacial erosion. The shallow mouth of a fjord opens to the sea and forms a natural protective harbor. Norwegian fjords enjoy a mild climate, remaining nearly ice-free year-round due to the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. Their shorelines contain particularly fertile soil and have been cultivated as farmland for thousands of years.

Norway’s coastal waters support a huge variety of plant and animal species, so many, in fact, that they are often referred to as a “storehouse of biodiversity.” This important storehouse of biodiversity, however, currently is being threatened.

Environmental issues that face Norway’s coastal waters include overfishing, eutrophication, the introduction of non-native species, and climate change. Escaped farmed salmon have the potential to spread sea lice (a common occurrence in confined farmed fish) to wild fish populations. Eutrophication from fish farm waste, sewage, and agricultural run-off is the leading culprit behind decreasing kelp forests in coastal waters. These are important to aquatic ecosystems as they provide food and shelter for a variety of fish and invertebrate populations.

Over the next 100 years, it is expected that the mean temperature of Norway’s coastal waters may increase by 2 degrees Celsius and rainfall may increase by 30 percent. An increased sea temperature could result in more-frequent blooms of toxic algae. The blooms are problematic for aquatic inhabitants and also pose a threat to humans who consume mussels and other mollusks that have accumulated the toxins in their systems. Increased rainfall could lead to more runoff on land, which has the potential to change circulation patterns in fjords. This would disrupt important ecosystem processes.

Country: Norway

Location: Norway is located in Northern Europe and is bordered by the North Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.

Area: 323,802 sq km (land and water) (slightly larger than New Mexico)

Climate: Norway is temperate along the coast, and the interior experiences colder temperatures and larger amounts of precipitation.

Terrain: The terrain of Norway includes glaciers, rugged mountains, fertile valleys, a deeply indented coastline, and Arctic tundra to the north.

Natural Resources: Copper, fish, hydropower, iron ore, lead, natural gas, nickel, petroleum, pyrites, timber, titanium, zinc

Economics: $282.2 billion (est. 2013)

Environmental Issues: Water pollution, air pollution, acid rain

Source: CIA – The World Factbook (

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