Saanajärvi Science Trail

Saanajärvi Science Trail takes you on a journey to the clean and beautiful Lake Saanajärvi and to the past.

This trail familiarizes you with remains and region specific history of the Second World War and with how the landscape of Kilpisjärvi looked like thousands of years ago when pine trees covered the area. You will also have the possibility to explore the amazing science behind everything from the sediments lingering at the bottom of Lake Saanajärvi to the plants, lichens, animals, and snow growing, living, and lingering around the trail.

Saanajärvi Science Trail

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

Please note that the first four stops of Saana and Saanajärvi Science Trails are identical.

Second World War

Signs of the Second World War

On the northside of Saana fell you are walking through a fortified Second World War landscape, although it is not directly obvious. The surroundings are littered with inconspicuous remains of dozens of shooting positions, gun placements, dugouts, and tent and barack foundations. However, nowadays one needs to stop to spot these traces of war marked by many kinds of pits, ditches, and rusting objects, such as food tins, barrels, and barbed wire.

Microclimate and plant diversity

Topography, microclimate and plant diversity

Rough terrains characterize the mountainous Arctic areas, such as the Kilpisjärvi region. Mountains and fells dominate these northern landscapes, but they are also rich in small-scale topographic features: ridges and gorges, hollows, and hummocks. The main relief here was formed by ancient orographic lifts and ice ages, but the local topography is still shaped by current processes such as running water, wind, and freeze–thaw cycles.

Listening in

Ecoacoustics: Using sound to understand landscape change

In our imagination, the remote landscapes within the Arctic circle are wild and untouched in comparison to the more densely populated areas of Europe. However, tourism activities in these areas are increasing, not just in summer but also during the winter months. This naturally has many positive outcomes for both the local population and visitors, and, when well managed, can have minimal impacts on the landscape. However, some activities have wider-reaching consequences that are harder to understand.

Norway lemmings

The Norway lemming is an arvicoline rodent (subfamily including voles and lemmings), famous for its bright colouration, sometimes aggressive behaviour and, most of all, its periodic migrations. Another special feature of this little rodent is its exceptional diet, a significant part of which consists of mosses. The majority of the winter diet of lemmings can consist of mosses, and mosses also make up a substantial part of their diet in the summer.

Because the nutritional value of moss is poor, lemmings must consume great amounts of it, leaving fell heaths almost bare after a population peak . On the other hand, Norway lemmings also leave behind a great deal of droppings, which can be seen on the fells after peak population years.


This trail includes three stops about “microworlds” — relatively small habitats like rocks, small ponds, or streams that gather a large variety of plants, mushrooms, and small animals. During a residency at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, Till Bovermann became interested in the sounds and interrelations within such microworlds. He recorded them and performed together with them with his electronic live-coding system. You can find these artworks and more information them in the Kilpisjärvi Science Trails application. 

World War 2 military landscapes

German infrastructural projects and forced labourers

The Germans captured an estimated 30 000 prisoners and forced labourers in Finland. About 9000 of these were taken on the Arctic front, and the rest were imported from countries conquered by Germany. They were mostly Soviet soldiers, but forced labourers and prisoners from many other nationalities were also present in Lapland. They were brought to the north from all over German-conquered Europe, e.g. from Poland, Serbia, Denmark, and Norway. This was a remarkably international brief period in Lapland’s history, with more foreigners than local inhabitants in northern Finland. Altogether, the Germans established about 200 prisoner-of-war camps in Finland, including some at Kilpisjärvi.

Changes in bird abundances

Mountain bird populations are dynamic, and their numbers change from year to year. Many mountain birds are not very faithful to their previous breeding sites, and they can move long distances when looking for suitable breeding places. The changes in mountain bird populations are linked to climatic conditions, but insect and rodent populations also affect bird abundances.

Secrets in the lake bottom

Diverse lakes and ponds are typical in the Arctic landscape. Waterbodies provide crucial habitats and resources for wildlife and serve key roles in carbon and nutrient cycling. Lakes also provide long-term material and carbon sinks. Layers of mud or sediments are continuously accumulating at lake bottoms. Sediments often form metres-thick chronological deposits of former aquatic and terrestrial organisms, fine-grained clay and silt from the catchment, and airborne particles such as plant pollen and soot.

Fish stocking in Lapland

Stocking means adding fish from a fish farm or lake to another lake.

Fishing has been conducted in Lapland since the end of the last ice-age by hunter-gathering people. Later on, lakes have been fished especially during the reindeer herding seasonal migrations and fish has therefore been an important part of the diet. Fish translocation (i.e. moving fish from one lake to another) to fishless lakes has apparently been very common at least since the beginning of reindeer herding.

Climate change in time

Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have caused most of the Earth’s climate warming over the past century. But the planet’s climate has always been changing. How is the present climate change different from the past changes?

Past climate and landscape in Kilpisjärvi

The end of the last Ice Age

Following the last glaciation event, the climate warmed due to increasing solar insolation following changes to the Earth’s position on its orbit. The edge of the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet began receding from the Norwegian coast 11 700 years ago and the Earth entered the present interglacial era, the Holocene. The landscape around lake Saanajärvi was ice-free around 10 500 years ago. The edge of the ice sheet remained south of lake Kilpisjärvi, which was then an ice-dammed lake with water levels reaching heights over 500 metres above sea level.

Slalom skiing on Saana

A ski lift operated on the southern slope of Saana Fell from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. You can still find traces of it on the slope, such as the concrete foundations of lift’s lower end next to the path and some rusting lift cables. The top end of the lift is further up the slope and is nowadays located within the nature conservation area. Slalom skiing began gaining popularity all over Finland in the 1950s, and the first ski lift was opened in 1951 in Kauniainen. Lapland’s first lift at Pallas opened in 1953. The Saana lift was one of the first ski lifts in Finland.