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Why Do the Nordic Countries Have So Many Islands?

Updated May 16, 2024
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When you think of a place with a lot of islands, you probably think of Indonesia, or the Philippines, or some other Pacific archipelago, so it might surprise you to learn that Scandinavia stands apart when it comes to stand-alone locales.

Sweden reigns as the island king with an estimated 221,800 of them, according to the website WorldAtlas. Granted, most are uninhabited, and some are as tiny as a one-car garage. Next on the list are Sweden's Nordic neighbors, Norway and Finland, though sources disagree about exactly how many islands each of these countries has.

According to geophysicist Karin Sigloch, these chilly nations have glaciers to thank for all of their tiny and not-so-tiny islands. "It's due to them having a particular recent past, geologically speaking," she says. "For the past few million years, Earth's climate has had an Arctic ice cap and periodic ice ages in the Northern Hemisphere. Before that, it didn't." Basically, the warming and cooling of Earth has a fluctuating effect on the mantle, eventually leaving "pieces of rocks sticking out everywhere," Sigloch says.

Island info:

  • The world's most populous island is Java, which is home to more than 140 million people.

  • Islands aren't just for shipwreck survivors; approximately one in every six people on Earth lives on an island.

  • For the record, a "desert island" refers to an island that is uninhabited – not one with a desert-like climate.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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