Geologically, a fjord or fiord (/ˈfjɔːrd/ ( listen),
/fiˈɔːrd/ ( listen)) is a long, narrow inlet with
steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier. There are many fjords
on the coasts of Alaska, British Columbia, Chile, Greenland, Iceland,
the Kerguelen Islands, New Zealand, Norway, Novaya Zemlya, Labrador,
Nunavut, Newfoundland, Scotland, and Washington state. Norway's
coastline is estimated at 29,000 kilometres (18,000 mi) with
1,190 fjords, but only 2,500 kilometres (1,600 mi) when fjords
Fjord features and variations
2.4 Epishelf lakes
3.1 Scandinavian usage
4 Differences in definitions
5 Freshwater fjords
5.1 Great Lakes
6.1 Principal glaciated regions
6.2 Other glaciated or formerly glaciated regions
6.3 Extreme fjords
7 See also
9 External links
A glacier in eastern
Greenland flowing through a fjord carved by the
movement of ice
Illustration of how a fjord is created
A true fjord is formed when a glacier cuts a
U-shaped valley by ice
segregation and abrasion of the surrounding bedrock. Glacial
melting is accompanied by the rebounding of Earth's crust as the ice
load and eroded sediment is removed (also called isostasy or glacial
rebound). In some cases this rebound is faster than sea level rise.
Most fjords are deeper than the adjacent sea; Sognefjord, Norway,
reaches as much as 1,300 m (4,265 ft) below sea level.
Fjords generally have a sill or shoal (bedrock) at their mouth caused
by the previous glacier's reduced erosion rate and terminal
moraine. In many cases this sill causes extreme currents and large
saltwater rapids (see skookumchuck).
Norway is often
described as the world's strongest tidal current. These
characteristics distinguish fjords from rias (e.g. the
Bay of Kotor),
which are drowned valleys flooded by the rising sea. Drammensfjorden
is cut almost in two by the
Svelvik "ridge", a sandy moraine that
during the ice cover was under sea level but after the post-glacial
rebound reaches 60 meters above the fjord.
Jens Esmark in the 19th century introduced the theory that fjords are
or have been created by glaciers. Thresholds at the mouths and
overdeepening of fjords compared to the ocean are the strongest
evidence of glacial origin, and these thresholds are mostly rocky.
Thresholds are related to sounds and low land where the ice could
spread out and therefore have less erosive force. John Walter Gregory
argued that fjords are of tectonic origin and that glaciers had a
negligible role in their formation. Gregory's views were rejected by
subsequent research and publications. In the case of Hardangerfjord
the fractures of the Caledonian fold has guided the erosion by
glaciers, while there is no clear relation between the direction of
Sognefjord and the fold pattern. This relationship between
fractures and direction of fjords is also observed in Lyngen.
Muldalsfossen waterfall drops several hundred meters from the Muldalen
hanging valley to Tafjorden.
Hanging valleys are common along glaciated fjords and U-shaped
valleys. A hanging valley is a tributary valley that is higher than
the main valley and were created by tributary glacier flows into a
glacier of larger volume. The shallower valley appears to be 'hanging'
above the main valley or a fjord. Often, waterfalls form at or near
the outlet of the upper valley. Hanging valleys also occur under
water in fjord systems. The branches of
Sognefjord are for instance
much shallower than the main fjord. The mouth of
about 400 meters deep while the main fjord is 1200 meters nearby. The
mouth of Ikjefjord is only 50 meters deep while the main fjord is
around 1300 meters at the same point.
Fjord features and variations
Distribution of ice (white) in Europe during the last glacial period
During the winter season there is usually little inflow of freshwater.
Surface water and deeper water (down to 100 meters or more) are mixed
during winter because of the steady cooling of the surface and wind.
In the deep fjords there is still fresh water from the summer with
less density than the saltier water along the coast. Offshore wind,
common in the fjord areas during winter, sets up a current on the
surface from the inner to the outer parts. This current on the surface
in turn pulls dense salt water from the coast across the fjord
threshold and into the deepest parts of the fjord.
During the summer season there is usually a large inflow of river
water in the inner areas. This freshwater gets mixed with saltwater
creating a layer of brackish water with a slightly higher surface than
the ocean which in turn sets up a current from the river mouths
towards the ocean. This current is gradually more salty towards the
coast and right under the surface current there is a reverse current
of saltier water from the coast. In the deeper parts of the fjord the
cold water remaining from winter is still and separated from the
atmosphere by the brackish top layer. Fjords with a shallow threshold
this deep water is not replaced every year and low oxygen
concentration makes the deep water unsuitable for fish and animals. In
the most extreme cases there is a constant barrier of freshwater on
the surface and the fjord freezes over such that there is no oxygen
below the surface.
Drammensfjorden is one example.
Gaupnefjorden branch of Sognefjorden is strongly affected by
freshwater as glacial river flow in.
Velfjorden has little inflow of
As late as 2000, some coral reefs were discovered along the bottoms of
the Norwegian fjords. These reefs were found in fjords from the
Norway to the south. The marine life on the reefs is believed
to be one of the most important reasons why the
Norwegian coastline is
such a generous fishing ground. Since this discovery is fairly new,
little research has been done. The reefs are host to thousands of
lifeforms such as plankton, coral, anemones, fish, several species of
shark, and many more. Most are specially adapted to life under the
greater pressure of the water column above it, and the total darkness
of the deep sea.
New Zealand's fjords are also host to deep-water corals, but a surface
layer of dark fresh water allows these corals to grow in much
shallower water than usual. An underwater observatory in Milford Sound
allows tourists to view them without diving.
In some places near the seaward margins of areas with fjords, the
ice-scoured channels are so numerous and varied in direction that the
rocky coast is divided into thousands of island blocks, some large and
mountainous while others are merely rocky points or rock reefs,
menacing navigation. These are called skerries. The term skerry is
derived from the
Old Norse sker, which means a rock in the sea.
Skerries most commonly formed at the outlet of fjords where submerged
glacially formed valleys perpendicular to the coast join with other
cross valleys in a complex array. The island fringe of
Norway is such
a group of skerries (called a skjærgård); many of the cross fjords
are so arranged that they parallel the coast and provide a protected
channel behind an almost unbroken succession of mountainous islands
and skerries. By this channel one can travel through a protected
passage almost the entire 1,601 km (995 mi) route from
Stavanger to North Cape, Norway. The
Blindleia is a skerry-protected
waterway that starts near
Kristiansand in southern Norway, and
continues past Lillesand. The Swedish coast along
likewise skerry guarded. The
Inside Passage provides a similar route
from Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, to Skagway,
Alaska. Yet another such skerry protected passage extends from the
Straits of Magellan
Straits of Magellan north for 800 km (500 mi).
An epishelf lake forms when meltwater is trapped behind a floating ice
shelf and the freshwater floats on the denser saltwater below. Its
surface may freeze forming an isolated ecosystem.
Hardangerfjord in Hordaland, Norway
Important fjords and lakes in Norway. Note: The part of the map
showing the northern fjords has a considerably smaller scale. Blurred
coastlines = skerries
The word fjord comes from Norwegian (pronounced [ˈfjuːr],
[ˈfjøːr], [ˈfjuːɽ] or [ˈfjøːɽ] in various dialects), where
it can have a more general meaning: in many cases to refer to any long
narrow body of water, inlet or channel (for example, see Oslofjord).
The Norse verb ferd (travelling/ferrying), the Norse noun substantive
fjǫrðr means a "lake-like" waterbody used for passage and ferrying,
which is of Indo-European origin (*prtús from *por- or *per).
The Scandinavian fjord, Proto-Scandinavian *ferþuz, is the origin for
similar Germanic words: Icelandic fjörður, Swedish fjärd (for
Baltic waterbodies), Scots firth. The Norse noun fjǫrðr was
adopted in German as Förde, used for the narrow long bays of
Schleswig-Holstein, and in English as firth "fjord, river mouth". The
English word ford (compare German Furt,
Low German Ford or Vörde, in
Dutch names voorde such as Vilvoorde,
Ancient Greek πόρος, poros,
Latin portus) is assumed to originate from Germanic *ferþu- and
Indo-European root *pertu- meaning "crossing point".
Förde as well as ford/Furt/Vörde/voorde refer to a
Germanic noun for a travel: North Germanic ferd or färd and of the
verb to travel, Dutch varen, German fahren; English to fare.
As a loanword from Norwegian, it is one of the few words in the
English language to start with the sequence fj. The word was for a
long time normally rendered fiord, a spelling preserved in place
names such as Grise Fiord, but now generally current only in New
Fjord à Christiania, by
Claude Monet (1895).
Svartisen glacier in Nordland.
See also: Förden and East
The use of the word fjord in Norwegian, Danish and Swedish is more
general than in English and in international scientific terminology.
In Scandinavia, fjord is used for a narrow inlet of the sea in Norway,
Denmark and western Sweden, but this is not its only application. In
Norway and Iceland, the usage is closest to the Old Norse, with fjord
used for both a firth and for a long, narrow inlet. In eastern Norway,
the term is also applied to long narrow freshwater lakes (for instance
Mjøsa [commonly referred to as fjorden],
Tyrifjorden) and sometimes even to rivers (in local usage, for
Flå in Hallingdal, the
Hallingdal river is referred to as
fjorden). In southeast Sweden, the name fjard fjärd is a subdivision
of the term 'fjord' used for bays, bights and narrow inlets on the
Baltic Sea coast, and in most Swedish lakes. This latter term
is also used for bodies of water off the coast of Finland where
Finland Swedish is spoken. In Danish, the word may even apply to
shallow lagoons. In modern Icelandic, fjörður is still used with the
broader meaning of firth or inlet. In Faroese fjørður is used both
about inlets and about broader sounds, whereas a narrower sound is
called sund. In the Finnish language, a word vuono is used although
there is only one fjord in Finland. Small waterfalls within these
fjords are also used as freshwater resources for the people of
Scandinavia and, in particular, Norway.
In old Norse genitive was fjaraðr whereas dative was firði. The
dative form has become common place names like
Førde (for instance
Førde), Fyrde or
Førre (for instance Førre.
The German use of the word Föhrde for long narrow bays on their
Baltic Sea coastline, indicates a common Germanic origin of the word.
The landscape consists mainly of moraine heaps. The Föhrden and some
"fjords" on the east side of Jutland,
Denmark are also of glacial
origin. But while the glaciers digging "real" fjords moved from the
mountains to the sea, in
Denmark and Germany they were tongues of a
huge glacier covering the basin of which is now the Baltic Sea. See
Förden and East
Whereas fjord names mostly describe bays (though not always geological
fjords), straits in the same regions typically are named Sund, in
Scandinavian languages as well as in German. The word is related to
"to sunder" in the meaning of "to separate". So the use of Sound to
name fjords in North America and
New Zealand differs from the European
meaning of that word.
The name of
Ireland is originally derived from
Veisafjǫrðr ("inlet of the mud flats") in Old Norse, as used by the
Viking settlers—though the inlet at that place in modern terms is an
estuary, not a fjord.
Before or in the early phase of
Old Norse angr was another common noun
for fjords and other inlets of the ocean. This word has survived only
as a suffix in names of some Scandinavian fjords and has in same cases
also been transferred to adjacent settlements or surrounding areas for
Stavanger and Geiranger.
Differences in definitions
The Lim bay in
Croatia is commonly called a fjord but is
scientifically a ria.
The differences in usage between the English and the Scandinavian
languages have contributed to confusion in the use of the term fjord.
Bodies of water that are clearly fjords in Scandinavian languages are
not considered fjords in English; similarly bodies of water that would
clearly not be fjords in the Scandinavian sense have been named or
suggested to be fjords. Examples of this confused usage follow.
Bay of Kotor
Bay of Kotor in
Montenegro has been suggested by some to be a
fjord, but is in fact a drowned river canyon or ria. Similarly the Lim
bay in Istria, Croatia, is sometimes called "Lim fjord" although it
was not carved by glacial erosion but instead is a ria dug by the
river Pazinčica. The
Croats call it Limski kanal, which does not
translate precisely to the English equivalent either.
Danish language any inlet is called a fjord, but none of the
Denmark may be considered a fjord in the geological sense.
Limfjord in English terminology is a sound, since it separates the
North Jutlandic Island
North Jutlandic Island (Vendsyssel-Thy) from the rest of Jutland.
Ringkøbing Fjord on the western coast of
Jutland is a lagoon. The
long narrow fjords of Denmark's
Baltic Sea coast like the German
Förden were dug by ice moving from the sea upon land, while fjords in
the geological sense were dug by ice moving from the mountains down to
The fjords in
Finnmark (Norway), which are fjords in the Scandinavian
sense of the term, are not universally considered to be fjords by the
scientific community. Although glacially formed, most Finnmark
fjords lack the steep-sided valleys of the more southerly Norwegian
fjords since the glacial pack was deep enough to cover even the high
grounds when they were formed. The
Oslofjord on the other hand is a
rift valley, and not glacially formed.
In Acapulco, Mexico, the calanques—narrow, rocky inlets—on the
western side of the city, where the famous cliff-divers perform daily,
are described in the city's tourist literature as being fjords.
Hornindalsvatnet separated from the
Nordfjord by the Nordfjordeid
Some Norwegian freshwater lakes that have formed in long glacially
carved valleys with thresholds or terminal moraines blocking the
outlet follow the Norwegian naming convention; they are frequently
named fjords. Such moraines blocking the outlet form isthmuses between
the lake and the saltwater fjord, in Norwegian called "eid" as in
Eidfjord or Nordfjordeid.
Eidfjord village sits on the
moraine forming an eid between
Eidfjordvatnet lake and Eidfjorden
branch of Hardangerfjord.
Nordfjordeid is the isthmus with a
Hornindalsvatnet lake and Nordfjord. Such
lakes are also denoted fjord valley lakes by geologists.
One of Norway's largest is
Tyrifjorden at 63 meters above sea level
and an average depth at 97 meters most of the lake is under sea level.
Norway's largest lake, Mjøsa, is also referred to as "the fjord" by
locals. Another example is the freshwater fjord
Movatnet (Mo lake)
that until 1743 was separated from
Romarheimsfjorden by an isthmus and
connected by a short river. During a flood in November 1743 the river
bed eroded and sea water could flow into the lake at high tide.
Movatnet became a saltwater fjord and renamed Mofjorden
(Mofjorden[no]). Like fjords, freshwater lakes are often deep. For
Hornindalsvatnet is at least 500 meters deep and water takes
an average of 16 years to flow through the lake. Such lakes
created by glacial action are also called fjord lakes or
Some of these lakes were salt after the ice age but later cut off from
the ocean during the post-glacial rebound. At the end of the ice
Norway was about 200 meters lower (the marine limit). When
the ice cap receded and allowed the ocean to fill valleys and
lowlands, and lakes like
Tyrifjorden were part of the ocean
Drammen valley was a narrow fjord. At the time of the Vikings
Drammensfjord was still 4 or 5 meters higher than today and reached
the town of Hokksund, while parts of what is now the city of Drammen
was under water. After the ice age the ocean was about 150 meter
at Notodden. The ocean stretched like a fjord through Heddalsvatnet
all the way to Hjartdal.
Post-glacial rebound eventually separated
Heddalsvatnet from the ocean and turned it into a freshwater
lake. In neolithic times
Heddalsvatnet was still a saltwater
fjord connected to the ocean, and was cut off from the ocean around
Some salt water fish got trapped in lakes that originally were part of
the salt fjord and gradually became freshwater fish such as the arctic
char. Some freshwater fjords such as
Slidrefjord are above the
Like freshwater fjords, the continuation of fjords on land are in the
same way denoted as fjord-valleys. For instance Flåmsdal (Flåm
valley) and Måbødalen.
Årdalstangen village on the small isthmus between Årdalsvatnet lake
(behind) and Årdalsfjorden branch of Sognefjorden (front)
Outside of Norway, the three western arms of New Zealand's
Anau are named North Fiord, Middle Fiord and South Fiord. Another
freshwater "fjord" in a larger lake is Western Brook Pond, in
Newfoundland's Gros Morne National Park; it is also often described as
a fjord, but is actually a freshwater lake cut off from the sea, so is
not a fjord in the English sense of the term. Locally they refer to it
as a "landlocked fjord". Such lakes are sometimes called "fjord
Lake was the first North American lake to be so
described, in 1962. The bedrock there has been eroded up to
650 m (2,133 ft) below sea level, which is 2,000 m
(6,562 ft) below the surrounding regional topography. Fjord
lakes are common on the inland lea of the
Coast Mountains and Cascade
Range; notable ones include
Lake Chelan, Seton Lake, Chilko Lake, and
Atlin Lake. Kootenay Lake, Slocan
Lake and others in the basin of the
Columbia River are also fjord-like in nature, and created by
glaciation in the same way. Along the
British Columbia Coast, a
notable fjord-lake is Owikeno Lake, which is a freshwater extension of
Rivers Inlet. Quesnel Lake, located in central British Columbia, is
claimed to be the deepest fjord formed lake on Earth.
A unique family of freshwater fjords are the embayments of the North
American Great Lakes. Baie Fine is located on the northwestern coast
Georgian Bay of
Lake Huron in Ontario, and
Huron Bay is located on
the southern shore of
Lake Superior in Michigan.
Sognefjord in Norway, the longest fjord in Norway, is a popular
Eyjafjörður in north Iceland,
Akureyri can be seen to the far right
Killary Harbour, western Ireland
New Zealand's Milford Sound
Glacier in a fjord at Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska
Norway north of the
Arctic Circle is located in the boreal
The entrance to Larsen Harbour, a sub-embayment of
Drygalski Fjord in
South Georgia Island
Norwegian fjord by Kazimierz Stabrowski (1928), National Museum in
The calving end of Inostrantsev
Glacier at Inostrantsev Fjord, Novaya
The principal mountainous regions where fjords have formed are in the
higher middle latitudes and the high latitudes reaching to 80°N
(Svalbard, Greenland), where, during the glacial period, many valley
glaciers descended to the then-lower sea level. The fjords develop
best in mountain ranges against which the prevailing westerly marine
winds are orographically lifted over the mountainous regions,
resulting in abundant snowfall to feed the glaciers. Hence coasts
having the most pronounced fjords include the west coast of Norway,
the west coast of North America from
Puget Sound to Alaska, the
southwest coast of New Zealand, and the west and to south-western
coasts of South America, for example in Chile.
Principal glaciated regions
West coast of Europe
Westfjords of Iceland
Eastern Region of Iceland
Norway, the whole coast including Svalbard
Kola Peninsula in Russia
West coast of New Zealand
Fiordland, in the southwest of the South Island
Northwest coast of North America
Coast of Alaska, United States: Lynn Canal,
Glacier Bay, etc.
British Columbia Coast, Canada: from the Alaskan Border along the
Portland Canal to Indian Arm; Kingcome
Inlet is a typical West Coast
Hood Canal in Washington, United States and various of the sidewaters
of Puget Sound
Northeast coast of North America
Labrador: Saglek Fjord, Nachvak Fjord, Hebron Fjord
The east coast of Ungava Bay.
Greenland: Kangerlussuaq, Ilulissat Icefjord, Scoresby Sund
Saguenay Fjord, Quebec
Western Patagonia, Chile
Other glaciated or formerly glaciated regions
Other regions have fjords, but many of these are less pronounced due
to more limited exposure to westerly winds and less pronounced relief.
Russia (see also List of fjords of Russia)
Scotland (where they are called firths, the
Scots language cognate of
fjord; lochs or sea lochs). Notable examples are:
Loch Fyne, Scotland's longest fjord at 65 km
Gullmarsfjorden, in Bohuslän, Sweden
the west and south coasts of Newfoundland, particularly:
Bonne Bay in Gros Morne National Park
La Hune Bay
Bay de Vieux
White Bear Bay
La Poile Bay
Bay Le Moine
Arctic Archipelago, particularly:
Scoresby Sund, the largest fjord in the world
Søndre Strømfjord or Kangerlussuaq
Ilulissat Icefjord, the most productive ice fjord in the world.
Somes Sound, Acadia National Park, Maine
most clearly seen at The Palisades
South Georgia (UK)
Kerguelen Islands (France)
particularly the Antarctic Peninsula
Snow-covered mountains stands out in contrast to the dark water of
Efjorden and Stefjorden,
Ofotfjorden in the distance.
The longest fjords in the world are:
Scoresby Sund in Greenland—350 km (217 mi)
Tanquary Fiord in Canada—230 km
(143 mi) The length of the total fjord system
from the head of Tanquary Sound, through Greely Fjord, to the mouth of
Nansen Sound is approximately 400 km, making it arguably the
longest fjord in the world.
Sognefjord in Norway—204 km (127 mi)
Independence Fjord in Greenland—200 km (124 mi)
Matochkin Shar, Novaya Zemlya, Russia—125 km (78 mi) (a
strait with a fjord structure)
Deep fjords include:
Inlet in Antarctica—1,933 m (6,342 ft)
Sognefjord in Norway—1,308 m (4,291 ft) (the
mountains then rise to up to 1,500 m (4,921 ft) and more,
Hurrungane reaches 2,400 m (7,874 ft))
Messier Channel in Tortel, Chile—1,358 m
(4,455 ft)
Baker Channel in Tortel, Chile—1,251 m (4,104 ft)
Förden and East
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