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Geography of Sweden (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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Geography of Sweden

 

7.2.2 Geography, climate, vegetation

[ By: Ahrvid Engholm, Johan Olofsson and Antti Lahelma ]


For some Swedish towns and provinces there actually exist English forms of the names, but in the news group and in this faq you will discover that Gothenburg and Göteborg, Scania and Skåne or Dalecarlia and Dalarna are used interchangeably without any intended difference in meaning.

Sweden occupies the Eastern part of the Scandinavian peninsula. It's a long (1572 kilometers) and rather narrow country, and the largest of the Nordic countries. It shares a long border with Norway to the west and a shorter border with Finland in the east; Denmark lies to the south across the Danish straits, over one of which (Öresund) a huge bridge is being built. The Baltic Sea islands of Gotland and Öland are integral parts of Sweden.

Norrland is on the map the dominating region of Sweden. Norrland - that is the northernmost two thirds of the country, where almost no people live. Except at the mines and along the coast. Northwestern Sweden is crossed by an ancient mountain chain; the remainder of the north is a southeast-sloping plateau that rises to between 200 and 500 meters.

South of Norrland, forming the regions of Svealand in central Sweden and Götaland farther south, is a varied landscape of plains and rift valleys. To the north of the highlands is the Central Swedish Depression, a down-faulted, lake-strewn lowland extending across the peninsula from near Göteborg to east of Stockholm and Uppsala. To the south is Skåne, a low-lying, predominantly agricultural area.

(Notes:

  1. The region Götaland should strictly speeking not be used for more than the provinces Dalsland, Västergötland, Småland and Östergötland, but most often also Bohuslän, Halland, Skåne and Blekinge are understood as provinces of Götaland, as they are incorporated in the Swedish realm after being captured in the 17th century.
  2. Gotland as a baltic island occupies an intermediate position, closer connected to Svealand although counted to Götaland.
  3. Åland is an autonomous island-province under Finnish sovereignty which was ceeded to Russia in 1809, and is, albeit culturally as Swedish as Gotland, not a part of Sweden.
  4. Year 1815 the Götaland province of Värmland was for a time belonging to the court of appeal of Svealand, i.e. the Svea Hovrätt, and since then Värmland is often counted to Svealand - at least in weather reports - but that is of course totally unhistorical.)

Population density

Outside of the three major urban areas (Stockholm with 2 milj. inhabitants, & Gothenburg and W Scania with eight hundred thousand each) the pattern from Viking times has turned out to be surprisingly stable. The rich plain-provinces in Svealand and Götaland have today a population density around 40 inhabitants per km² (Uppland, Västmanland, Sörmland, Östergötland & Västergötland). The Scanian provinces (including Halland & Blekinge) nourish 50 inh./km² while the old wood provinces of Småland, Dalsland, Värmland and Gästrikland have 20 inh./km². For Dalarna and Norrland's southern coast the figure is 10 inh./km² and the rest of Norrland has virtually no population density to speak of - with exception of a few towns.

It's sometimes reminded that only 10% of the inhabitants populate the northern half of the country, but one could also say that 15% live in the 60%-part comprising the Northern and Western wood and fjeld region, or that 20% of the people live on 70% of the realm's area. Most of the land in the North is designated for reindeer herding.

Climate regions

Because of its large area and latitudinal extent, Sweden has a number of climate regimes. A cold, maritime climate dominates the country's west coast. The northern two-thirds of the country has a continental climate marked by severe winters. The south central areas experience the long, rather cold winters of the north, but they enjoy milder summers. The mountain regions remain cool in summer. In January temperatures average -0.8°C at Lund in the south), -2.8°C at Stockholm, and -13.7°C at Jokkmokk north of the the Arctic Circle. In July, the temperature variation is lower because of the sun shines the longer the further north one goes: 15°C at Jokkmokk, 18°C at Stockholm, and only 17°C at Lund. Snow remains on the ground for 40 days in southernmost Sweden, 100 days in the Stockholm area, and 250 days in the northwest mountains.

Forest covers two thirds of the land area. It consists of a summer-green forest of beeches, oaks, and other deciduous trees in the south, a mixed forest of deciduous and coniferous trees in central Sweden, and a predominantly coniferous forest of mainly pines and spruce in the north. Mountain birch and dwarf birch grow in colder upland areas, and tundra covers the highest elevations. Treeless moors (peat moss and marshland) cover more than 14% of all Sweden and as much as 40% in western areas of the south and parts of Norrland. Bears, wolves and lynxes are now found only in isolated woodlands, elk and deer are the common large animals found elsewhere.

Härad, landskap and län

Sweden consists of 25 provinces (landskap) which are divided in hundreds (one härad - several härader). The concepts of landskap and härad are ancient, mirroring how people in pre-historic times identified and knew each others.
The landskap are (approximately from north to south): 

Norrland:
      Lappland, 
      Norrbotten, 
      Västerbotten,
      Jämtland, 
      Härjedalen,
      Ångermanland, 
      Medelpad,
      Hälsingland,
      Gästrikland,

Svealand:
      Dalarna,
      Värmland,
      Västmanland,
      Uppland,
      Södermanland,
      Närke,

Götaland:
      Dalsland,
      Bohuslän, 
      Västergötland,
      Östergötland,
      Gotland,
      Öland,
      Småland,
      Halland,
      Blekinge &
      Skåne.

The härader play no role in the Swedish society any more - except for folk costumes. But well into the 20th century rural judges were called häradsdomare [literally  härad's judges], which reminds about the function of the härad as the area from which the people assembled for the local Thing.

For civil service the country is divided in 24 län [literally "fiefs"] (currently being reduced in number). The governor for the län and his board are appointed by the central government. Since 1634 this administration handles governmental matters equal in all of the realm.

The landsting are regionally elected assemblies, mostly for the same areas as for the län, with responsibility mainly for health care, which is why the landsting decide about local taxes. Usually län is translated to "county" and landsting to "county council" in English. The very word "landsting" means the Thing of a landskap, but that is not entirely valid any more. :-)

The country is divided in 286 independent kommuner - mostly one town and the country around. In the newsgroup and in this faq the English word "municipality" will most of the time be used for kommuner regardless of their size or degree of urbanity. The kommun decides about local taxes too.



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© Copyright 1994-2001 by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson.
You are free to quote this page as long as you mention the URL.
The line of flags is modified after a picture at det Åländska skoldatanätet.
This page was last updated March the 19th in the year of 1998.

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