Sweden stretches about 1,600km (994 miles) from north to south and is one of the farthest countries from the equator. From north to south, Sweden lies at roughly the same latitude as Alaska.
Sweden can be divided into three main regions: the mountainous northern zone of Norrland; Svealand, the lake-filled, hilly region of central Sweden; and Götaland, the broad plateau in southern Sweden, home of most of the country's agricultural enterprises.
Much of the land is pristine: Forests cover more than half of Sweden, and less than 10% of the land is used for agriculture. Sweden has more than 100,000 lakes, including Vänern, the largest in western Europe. About 9% of the countryside is covered by lakes, which play an important role in transporting goods from the Baltic ports to cities throughout Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. Canals link many of these lakes to the sea. The most important of these is the Göta Canal. Constructed in the 19th century, this 600km-long (373-mile) canal links Gothenburg in the west to Stockholm in the east. Some 195km (121 miles) of canals were constructed to connect the various lakes and rivers that make up this waterway.
Sweden's rivers tend to be short and to empty into its numerous lakes. They're used for short-haul transportation, linking the network of lakes, but especially for providing hydroelectric power to fuel the many factories scattered throughout the countryside. The most important rivers are the Pite, the Lule, and the Indal.
Sweden's expansive seacoast is more than 2,500km (1,553 miles) long. The west is bounded by the Kattegat and the Skagerrak, and the east by the Gulf of Bothnia and the Baltic Sea. Numerous small islands and reefs dot the eastern and southwestern coasts. If all the inlets and islands were included, the coastline of Sweden would measure 7,500km (4,660 miles). Öland and Gotland, Sweden's largest, most populated islands, are situated in the Baltic Sea, off the eastern coast.
Sweden is a center for alpine activities, including skiing, hiking, and glacier walking -- most of which take place in the mountainous regions of Norrland. This far-northern area is home to many of the country's highest peaks, including its highest mountain, Kebnekaise, at 2,080m (6,824 ft.).
The flora of Sweden varies with the region. There are five rather disparate zones, each supporting a distinct array of plant life: the tundra in the north, coniferous forests below the timber line, central Sweden's birch forests, coniferous forests in the south, and the beech and oak zones found in the southern regions.
Animal life also differs depending on the region. The countryside teems with bears, elk, reindeer, fox, wolves, and otters. Numerous game birds also make their home in Sweden's expansive forests.
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