Norwegian Glaciers

Cruiseship at Svartisen Glacier Norway. Photo: Ernst Furuhatt

Svartisen is one of the biggest Norwegian Glaciers, and much visited by international cruiseships during the summer. Take a look at this beautiful photo taken by Ernst Furuhatt.

Because of the nordic climate, the glaciers has "survived" until now, and are still a common sight. Norway has 1.627 glaciers, covering a total of 2609 km², of which 900 glaciers are located in Northern Norway.

1% of Norway is covered with ice / glaciers, and the glaciers are some of the most popular and spectacular tourist attractions in Norway. 60% of the glacier area is in Southern Norway,

The word "glacier" is French, and derivates from the Latin word "glacies" that means "ice".

Actually the whole process of establishment, growth and flow is calles "glaciation". The glaciers has a "body" of ice, that over many centuries has exceeded it's melting.



The Norwegian word for Glacier is "isbre" ("is" = "ice"). Jostedalsbreen means "the glacier of Jostedalen", while the "Svartisen" means "the black ice (glacier)". Another Norwegian word for it is "jøkul".


Svartisen Glacier, Norway. Photo: Margaret Harvey HRarchive

Official measurings documents the fact, that 28 out of 33 Norwegian glaciers has decreased since 2009.
One is unchanged, while 3 glaciers has increased in the actual periode.

The decrease is about the same as in 2007, but less than in 2006 and 2007. However, a decrease in the coming years is expected.


These are the Top 10 largest of Norwegian glaciers:

1. Jostedalsbreen 487 km² (Sogn og Fjordane county)

2. Vestre Svartisen 221 km² (Nordland county)

3. Søndre Folgefonna 168 km² (Hordaland county)

4. Østre Svartisen 148 km² (Nordland county)

5. Blåmannsisen (Ålmåjalosjiegŋa) 87 km² (Nordland county)

6. Hardangerjøkulen 73 km² (Hordaland county)

7. Myklebustbreen (Snønipebreen) 57 km² (Sogn og Fjordane county)

8. Okstindbreen 46 km² (Nordland county)

9. Øksfjordjøkelen (Ákšovunjiehkki) 41km² Finnmark/Troms county)

10. Harbardsbreen 36 km² (Sogn og Fjordane county)


All glaciers are always in movement, due to gravity and internal deformation. Today, glaciers makes the largest reservoir of fresh water on earth.

Many sees glaciers as the most sensitive indicators of todays climate changes.


The Briksdalsbreen Glacier in Norway

In the Jostedalsbreen we see that the Briksdalsbreen, in Stryn municipality in Sogn and Fjordane county, has reduced it's length with 20 meters since 2009, while the Bødalsbreen, also in Stryn, has withdrawn itself with 67 meters.

Another Stryn glacier, the Brenndalsbreen is 60 meters shorter than last measured.

Around the Folgefonna glaciers has all the 5 measured glaciers shortened their length in 2011.

The Gråfjellsbreen is 270 meters shorter than in 2002, and 42 meters shorter than in 2009.

In average, 23 of the glaciers has decreased their length with 194 meters from 2001 to 2011, which is 3,2% of their length. (In total, the measured glaciers makes 11% of all Norwegian glaciers).

When we take a look at the largest glaciers, the Jostedalsbreen, Folgefonna and the Svartisen, and follow them over many years, we find that the reduction from 1935 to 1955 was 43 meters each year, while it was 29 meters per year from 2001 to 2011.

Engabreen Glacier in Norway. Photo: Guttorm Raknes

In Northern Norway, the Engabreen, which is a part of the Svartisen glacier, has melted 20 meters the last year, and 286 meters since 1999.

Norwegian authorities are very concerned, especially on behalf of the tourism business.

However, if the climate keeps up about the same level as today, it will take at least 100 years before the glaciers are totally gone.


Many Norwegian glaciers are easy accessable, and there has been established exhibition centers several places, which among the Jostedalsbreen National Park center in Stryn and Norsk Bremuseum in Fjærland is two of the most visited.

Briksdalsbreen  Photo: Knut Erik Nesje

Most cruise ship passengers that is visiting Hellesylt will have the possibility to visit the Nasjonalpark centre, and passengers on ships visiting Olden in Sogn and Fjordane will be visiting the Briksdalsbreen.

In 2009 there was 37.000 visitors in Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalparksenter, which has become very popular (12.000 visitors in 1995), and 38.000 in Norsk Bremuseum (87.800 visitors in 1995). The Jostedalsbreen Nasjonalparksenter is very modern, with excellent parking solutions, exhibitions including av widescreen cinema, and even a Geological Park.

The cinema is offering translation in several languages, and the centre is now working on a Russian and a Dutch version.

Source glaciers: NVE (Norges Vassdrag og Energidirektorat)



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