Why Does Finland Have So Many Lakes?

Elizabeth Borneman


Not many people know that Finland has approximately 187,000 lakes within its borders. That’s a lot of water for a country that is only 130,128 square miles! The many lakes that make up Finland’s abundant freshwater resources make up about 10% of the total land area of the country and contribute to its nickname, the ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes.’ There’s just a few more than a thousand, but nicknames aren’t always the most accurate things, are they?

Finland became a country with an extraordinary amount of water in it because of geological conditions that pre-date the creation of the state by many thousands of years. Although there are no glaciers in Finland now (despite a substantial portion of the country being located in the Arctic Circle) the effects of glaciation can be seen in the geography and lake formation in Finland in the present day.

MODIS image from May 29, 2002 showing Finland and its many lakes in the middle of the satellite image.  Source: NASA, public domain.
MODIS image from May 29, 2002 showing Finland and its many lakes in the middle of the satellite image. Source: NASA, public domain.

During the last major period of climate change continental glaciers covered a vast majority of what is now considered to be the country of Finland. Approximately 10,000 years ago the glaciers began to melt and left behind physical evidence of their presence in the forms of mountains, valleys, depressions, and fields of glacial mineral deposits.

As we know glaciers are very powerful. Glaciers have the ability to dramatically change how a landscape looks as they are formed, as they slowly move and grow, and then when they recede and melt. Glaciers have helped create some of the most extraordinary landscapes in the world that continue to stun viewers tens of thousands of years after the glaciers themselves have been forgotten.

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The glaciation in Finland was a huge factor in the creation of the lakes that exist today. The sheets of ice moving across the surface of the Earth created divots, gouges and craters that filled up with melted waters after the glaciers receded. These lakes are still changing and evolving as drainage patterns continue to be formed around the country and as erosion takes its toll on the physical landscape through water, wind, and chemical changes.

Map of Finland Lakeland district. Map: Natural Earth, public domain.
Map of Finland Lakeland district. Map: Natural Earth, public domain.

Two of the most predominant moraines, or debris fields, left by the glaciers are called the Salpausselkä Ridges and are located in southern Finland. These ridges are about 25 kilometers apart from one another and help show the path of the glacier’s recession. This information also can help geologists determine the shape, size, movement, and physical makeup of the glacier that once existed there. The lakes, connecting rivers and water drainage systems run in an approximate northeast to southwest lineation.

The presence of so much fresh water as well as a coastline has helped make Finland abundant in resources above and beyond other nations of the world. The access to the ocean allows for fishing and undersea mining opportunities as well as the ability to trade and ship internationally; in Finland’s interior irrigation is no problem, and traveling through the Land of a Thousands Lakes is made that much more picturesque thanks to the many stunning vistas overlooking clear and beautiful bodies of water created by the ancient glaciers. Agriculture is abundant and the country is able to sustain many different kinds of plants, animals, and industry thanks to the accessibility of water.

Many of the glacier-born lakes are difficult to get to, which is why a definite number of Finland’s total lake count is hard to get to. Some of the thousands of lakes in Finland are located far away from any major urban centers and therefore aren’t seen as suitable excursion destinations for families on holiday or people looking for a fun weekend adventure. The number of lakes combined with Finland’s northern location means that some of the lakes freeze during the winter.

The appearance and recession of the glaciers in Finland over 10,000 years ago contributed the most to the formation of the thousands of lakes the country has today. Although lakes are formed in other ways (and Finland is certainly no exception to that) the majority of Finland’s lakes have been studied and attributed to the glaciers for carving the land now covered by water.


Järviwiki (Lakewiki). Web access 30 November 2014.

Li, Leslie. A Land of a Thousand Lakes. The New York Times. 16 April 1989. Web access 30 November 2014.

Lakes of Finland. Wikipedia


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About the author
Elizabeth Borneman
My name is Elizabeth Borneman and I am a freelance writer, reader, and coffee drinker. I live on a small island in Alaska, which gives me plenty of time to fish, hike, kayak, and be inspired by nature. I enjoy writing about the natural world and find lots of ways to flex my creative muscles on the beach, in the forest, or down at the local coffee shop.