Saana Science Trail

Saana Science Trail brings you to the top of the iconic fell of Saana (height 1029 m).

Along your uphill travel, you will discover curious wonders about everything from the water in Lake Kilpisjärvi, to the plants, lichens, animals, snow, and air growing, living and lingering around the path which you follow.

You will get to see the traces of avalanches on Malla fell, and learn about all the health benefits you gain by continuing walking. When you have conquered the ~550 vertical metres, you will learn about the stone labyrinths which are found at the trail end.

Saana Science Trail

Below you will see a glimpse of the content of the Saana Science Trail. You can find more content in the Science Trail App.

Epiphytic lichens indicate snow depth

Lichens living on trees

Standing in the mountain birch forests around Kilpisjärvi, one can see a curious colour pattern on the bark of the trees: the lower parts of the trees are often pale yellow with the upper trunks having a chocolate brown colour. This is due to the presence of two species of lichens which are epiphytic (i.e. living on top of a plant).

Listen to a Kilpisjärvi Science Trails webinar about lichens and learn about their diversity and connection to humans and other animals. 

Differing snow cover

Snow and wind

Snow does not cover the land evenly. Snow depth varies greatly, especially in places like Kilpisjärvi where both fells and mountain birch forests are found in a relatively small area, and slopes of varying steepness face different compass directions. Wind notably affects snow distribution. In places where the wind accelerates, snow grains erode from the surface of the snow cover, and thin and wind-packed snow cover forms. Wind transports the snow.


Tundra shrubification

Vegetation in the treeless tundra biome is small statured but diverse, consisting of various shrubs, grasses, sedges, mosses, and lichens. They are all adapted to the cold, snowy, and windy conditions with short growing seasons. However, rapid Arctic climate warming over the past few decades is shifting the tundra vegetation. Shrubs and trees in particular are growing taller, wider, and taking over new habitats that were previously too cold for them, in a process called shrubification.


The rapid movement of a great deal of snow

Avalanches are a natural phenomenon, where a large mass of snow moves rapidly down a slope. The release of an avalanche depends mainly on the inner structure of the snow cover: thickness, continuity, and strength of the snow layers. A change in weather or the weight of a skier can trigger an avalanche when conditions are right.

Birds shifting upwards

Long-term climate changes cause changes to species distribution areas. By changing their ranges, birds are trying to follow their optimal climatic conditions, which are also on the move due to climate change. For instance, bird species have been shown to shift their abundances and distribution ranges in Finland by about 1.5 kilometres northwards per year.

Nature affects your well-being

Psychological and cognitive benefits

Scientific studies have shown that contact with nature increases positive mood and happiness, reduces anger, and improves your general psychological well-being with positive impacts on emotions and behaviour.


Clean air

Some of the cleanest air in the world

The composition of the last percentage of air varies greatly around the world. The air at Kilpisjärvi is clean, which means that the concentration of atmospheric pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, and particulate matter, is small. In fact, the air at Kilpisjärvi is some of the cleanest in the world because anthropogenic air pollution sources, for example traffic, industry, energy production and distribution, and fires, are few and their levels are low in both the immediate vicinity and for hundreds of km in whichever direction you go.

Air pollution is a serious threat to human health, as it causes at least strokes, heart diseases, lung cancer, and acute and chronic respiratory diseases. Poor air quality is estimated to account for 1 in 8 deaths globally (WHO). Living in a place with bad air quality can greatly reduce your life expectancy.

Biocrusts - The living skin of the fells

When you look down at the soil between the rocks of Saana, you will notice that it is far from barren. Between the sparse vegetation of dwarf birches and berries, the ground is covered by a diverse community of organisms — lichens, moss, fungi, algae, and cyanobacteria — forming what is called a biocrust (also called a biological soil crust).

Lake Kilpisjärvi moves under ice

When covered by ice, the lake seems to be quiet and motionless. However, although we cannot see it, the water is still moving under the ice. This movement is called circulation and is caused when water masses of different temperatures — and therefore of different densities — meet. In spring, when sunlight penetrates through the ice and the lake shoreline is heated by the surrounding land, the temperature difference between water in different parts of the lake becomes large, and the circulation therefore becomes especially intense.

Plant odour affects clouds

Nearly all living vegetation emits organic molecules, as does the decomposition of dead vegetation. Individual plant species emit their own unique combination of compounds — a bit like a fingerprint — and many of these molecules can be smelled.

This is why roses always smell like roses and not, for example, like pine trees, and vice versa. Environmental parameters, such as temperature, light, and water availability, and the phenological status of plants, for example leaf age and maturity, influence how many organic molecules are being emitted. This is also one reason why plants sometimes smell more strongly than at other times.

Saana labyrinths

Mystery of Saana labyrinths

Labyrinths and spirals are ancient symbols encountered in different cultures around the world with many kinds of mythical meanings attached to them. Two stone-built labyrinths are found on the level top of Saana Fell. People have been speculating about their origin for example in social media, but in this case despite their ancient look, their origin is very recent. The stone labyrinths on Saana are environmental artworks that have been built after the turn of the 21st century. It is unknown who started building them, but it is clear that the builders took inspiration from the archaeological and historical examples.