Physical Geography

SwedenSweden is a country in northern Europe.

Unlike its neighbors—mountainous Norway and flat, lake-dotted Finland—Sweden has considerable diversity in its landscapes. There are fertile farmlands, rolling woodlands, and barren mountain crags. There are also noticeable differences in climate and vegetation from one region to another.


Sweden can be divided into three major physical regions: Norrland, Svealand, and Götaland.

Norrland consists of the northern two-thirds of the country. It is basically a tilted plateau sloping downward gradually toward the east. Marking the western edge of this plateau are rugged mountains, part of the long Kjölen range that extends along the Sweden-Norway border. The mountains reach their maximum height of about 6,900 feet (2,100 m) at Kebnekaise, Sweden's highest peak. East of the mountains, deep river valleys cut the plateau. Extreme northern Sweden, north of the Arctic Circle, is part of Lapland, an area that also includes parts of Norway, Finland, and Russia.

Svealand lies between the western coast and the Baltic Sea, and includes most of the area between Lakes Siljan and Vättern. Glaciers of the last Ice Age did much to shape this region, carving great lake beds and leaving ridges called eskers and moraines. Besides containing the country's largest lakes—Vänern and Vättern—the region is the site of many of Sweden's larger cities and manufacturing industries.

Götaland is a rocky upland bordered on its seaward sides by low, almost flat plains. The upland area, known as Småland, rises to its greatest elevation, about 1,200 feet (365 m), just south of Lake Vättern. In the far south is the fertile plain of Skäne, Sweden's most productive farm area. Offshore in the Baltic Sea are the largest of the country's many islands, Gotland and Öland.


Sweden is rich in rivers and lakes. Dozens of swift rivers pour out of the northern mountains, widening as they reach the plateau to form long glacially carved lakes. Development of the vast power potential of these northern rivers was vital to Sweden's growth as a manufacturing nation. The Lule, Skellefte, Ume, and Ångerman rivers each have several large hydroelectric installations

The Svealand region of Sweden is notable more for its lakes than for its rivers. Lakes Vänern and Vättern, each more than 90 miles (145 km) in length, are among the largest lakes in Europe. Almost as large is Lake Mälaren, which is open to the Baltic Sea near Stockholm.


Because it is close to the comparatively warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Sweden has a milder climate than most areas this far north. The ocean's influence is especially noticeable in the south, where the climate somewhat resembles that of New England. Southern summers are moderately warm, with daytime temperatures reaching between 70° and 80° F. (21° and 27° C.). Winters in the south are damp and fairly cold, with temperatures below freezing much of the time.

The north, partially blocked from the warm ocean winds by mountains, has a more severe climate than the south. Summers are short and quite cool; winters are long and cold, with average temperatures ranging from 5° to 20° F. (-15° to -7° C.). North of the Arctic Circle, a period of winter darkness adds to the harshness of the climate. The same area in summer has several weeks when the sun is always above the horizon, helping to raise temperatures somewhat.

Precipitation is moderate almost everywhere. The seasonal distribution is fairly even, although slightly greater amounts usually are received in summer. The southwestern coast and the mountains average about 30 inches (760 mm) yearly. Elsewhere, totals range from 25 inches (640 mm) in the southeast to 15 inches (380 mm) in Lapland. Winter snow is frequent, but only in the north does it fall in large amounts.


Forests occupy more than half the land and rank as one of Sweden's richest resources. Most of the north is covered by dense stands of pine, spruce, and birch trees. In Lapland, the forests thin and finally give way to scrub growth and tundra vegetation. In the river valleys of the north grow deciduous trees such as alder and aspen.

Southern Sweden's forests are somewhat less extensive than those of the north. Centuries of settlement have led to the clearing of many areas for crops and pastures. Predominant species of trees in the south include beech, oak, and elm.