Thursday, February 16, 2012

On the discovery of a new 2400 km long mountain range

It may sound like a joke, but it’s true. If you don’t believe me, find an atlas or map and look up Scandinavia: A lot of elevated topography, but no name. I made the discovery when working on my new book Bergtatt (“In High Places”), about 3-4 years ago.

In Norway, there is a long mountain range stretching from the southern parts and all the way to arctic Finnmark County, but very few people have thought about it as representing a unified range. In addition, the range doesn’t have a name. Local and regional parts are named of course (like Jotunheimen and Rondane), but the range as a whole lacks a name. How is that possible?

A key reason is probably related to how Norwegians use the mountains. We go there a lot, either to private cabins or hiking, which puts the focus on specific areas and not an extended part of the range. And the mountain range is actually quite difficult to see from afar, in contrast to e.g., the Alps. There also used to be confusion about the relationship between the current mountains and the ca. 410 million year old Caledonian range which rocks are found in the very same mountains. Thus some called it the Caledonian range. Today we know that the mountains in Norway belong to a specific category of mountains that are present on passive margins, and mountain ranges of similar extent, altitude and origin are found around the globe (Brazil, South Africa, India, Australia, and Greenland).

In the 1940’s, the Swedish geographer Erik Ljungner suggested a name on the Swedish part of the range, the Scandes mountains. The reason was his like for short Alps-Andes-like names. Today, that name is commonly used in Sweden and by some Norwegian geologists as well, but is not a name that can easily be applied in Norway.

The geological society in Norway will launch a contest later this year, where Norwegians can have their say about what they think the mountain range should be named. There are already several independent suggestions around, and it will be exciting to follow the development. What about "The northern mountains"? 


  1. Curiously enough it has already got a Danish name. In Denmark it is traditionally known as ”Kølen” (the keel) – with this definition:
    ”Kølen - 'De skandinaviske bjerge', som adskiller Norge og Sverige.” (The Scandinavian mountains separating Norway and Sweden). As far as I know because of the resemblance of an upturned ship keel.

  2. Hi Ole,
    interesting! We also use the name "Kjølen" in Norway, but it is usually restricted to the mountains near the Swedish border (as you mentioned), and thus cannot be applied to the other parts of the range. The name is curiously known by most people in Norway (and is always brough up when I talk about the nameless range), but you can't find it on maps. The same goes for "Langfjella", which is only used when forcasting the weather (!).


  3. I Sverige säger vi ju bara "Fjällen" eller "Fjällkedjan", men bland geologer är det vanligast med "Kaledoniderna" :-)

  4. I think the name "Fjalla" ("The mountains") is widely used in Norway too, whereas few people here have heard about "Caledonides". But I thought that people in Sweden were more familiar with Scandes? Or is that name mostly used in academia?

  5. Well, I think very few Swedes use the term "the Scandes" and if it is used its "den skandinaviska fjällkedjan". In academia its mostly "the Caledonides", but that really refers to the whole orogeny.

    Cited from "NE: National Encyclopedin" article by the late Mauritz Lindström (no relation):

    "fjällkedjan, skandinaviska fjällkedjan, Skanderna, bergskedja i Sverige och Norge som utgör Skandinaviens gränsområde mot nordväst och dess yngsta större jordskorpedel. Fjällkedjan är en del av Kaledoniderna som sträcker sig vidare till de brittiska öarna. Längden från Varangerhalvön till Stavanger är 1 700 km och största bredden (mellan Kristiansund och Hamar) är 320 km."