What is a Fjord and how were they formed?

Many who travel to Norway wants to see the majestic fjords, and as a tour guide I often get the two questions what is a fjord and how were they formed? In this article I’ll give you the facts behind these bodies of water that make up much of Norway’s coast line.

How the fjords were created

Through much of its history, Norway has been covered by ice during the so called ice age. There have been many ice ages though, but the most recent one ended about 12,000 years ago.

During the ice ages large blocks of ice, today known as glaciers, could be as tall as 3000 meters (9000 feet), and would be constantly shrinking and growing depending on the temperatures. You could describe the glaciers as giant bulldozers, shaping the landscape into what we see around us in Norway today. So as the ice was moving it would carve out and move large amounts of rocks, stone and sand. This process is also known as glaciation.


What makes a fjord a fjord?

A part of the glaciation process was to carve out valleys. This would typically happen when a glacier retracted towards the ocean. The work of the glacier would produce a U-shaped valley, and at the end when it reached the ocean it would be flooded, creating a fjord.

As the carving proceeded towards the ocean it would gradually decline since the glacier would shrink. Typically fjords are therefor very deep inland where they begin, and become progressively more shallow as you get closer to the ocean.

Source: Ulamm, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Just before the ocean there will be a terminal moraine. A terminal moraine consist of all the debris that was collected and pushed in front of the glacier towards the ocean. Basically a large collection of soil, rocks and sediment. To give an example, picture yourself shoveling snow. Put a shovel into the snow and push the shovel forward along the ground. After a while a big clump of snow will gather in front of you. This is the same that happens when a glacier is retracting.

How deep and long is a fjord?

This would be like asking “how big is a shoe?” 🙂 In other words it varies a lot. But as a general rule one can say that a fjord is often as deep as the hill sides are tall, but sometimes its even deeper! For instance the Sognefjord reaches a depth of up to 1,300 meters (4,200 feet).

When it comes to length, it might be interesting to know that the coastline of Norway is about 29,000 km (18,000 miles) long, but excluding the fjords its only 2,500 km (1,600 miles) long!

A few fjord facts

  • Coral reefs have been found on the bottom of many Norwegian fjords

  • The word fjord comes from the Old Norse word fjǫrðr which means a lake-like body of water

  • Fjords have brackish water. A mix of salt water from the ocean and fresh water from glaciers, snow and rain

  • Inland fjords do exist, but are called fjord valley lakes

  • In Norway there are more than 1700 named fjords

  • The Sognefjord is the longest fjord in Norway and stretches 205 km (127 mi) inland

I hope this article helped clear up some fjord questions you might have. Make sure to visit a fjord next time you come to Norway.

Take care & ha det bra,

Things to do in Norway

Hei Hei! I’m Pål. Your travel guide to Norway.

Need a local guide in Oslo or advice on travel in Norway?

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Tour guide, travel writer & YouTuber. Passionate about sailing, hiking, history, food, art and travel.


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