Once upon a time, the mountains in Sogn were covered by a glacier that was several kilometres thick. The ice only scoured off a millimetre of rock a year, but it had all the time in the world.
The Sognefjord was gouged out and shaped by rivers and glaciers through forty ice ages. The process took somewhere between two and three million years. The remains of the glacier from the last ice age are still there, forming a bright contrast to the grey mountains and green forests during summer. A branch of the Jostedalsbreen glacier extends almost all the way down to the Fjærlandsfjord, which is one of the long, narrow arms of the Sognefjord. Big and small streams cascade like bridal veils down the steep mountainsides, and small farms seem to be suspended almost in thin air in places where no one would think that people could live.
Slantevika is located on the southern shore of the Sognefjord in Høyanger municipality. Glitne’s land-based facility is on an abandoned smallholding in steep and barren terrain, a typical western Norwegian farm. Slantevika is surrounded by high mountains and a deep fjord. People here have always harvested nature’s bounty. Animals have grazed in the mountains, and the people have farmed their small fields and fished in the fjord. The area’s natural resources were also what attracted Glitne, namely the Sognefjord’s abundant supply of fresh, cold and salty seawater.
While the surface layer fills up with fresh water from the rivers and glaciers further inland, the water becomes saltier the deeper down you get. The fjord’s distinct shape, with a shallow threshold at the mouth of the fjord and a deeper fjord basin further up, creates special conditions for the exchange of water between the fjord and the ocean.
The total surface area of the fjord system is approx. 1,000 square kilometres. The tide moves more than one cubic kilometre of water into and out of the Sognefjord twice a day.
About once every ten years, the replacement of water is exceptionally high, and water from the Atlantic Ocean flows over the threshold, filling the fjord with new salt water. At the same time, the ‘old’ water flows in the opposite direction, up and out of the fjord.
Glitne takes its seawater from a depth of 100 metres. This water has a stable temperature of 8 degrees and a salinity of 35 parts per thousand all year round. The fish thrive in these stable conditions because the cold and salty water of the Sognefjord is the halibut’s natural habitat. The location of the facility was chosen for its access to water from deep down in the fjord.
The word fjord is closely related to the English word ‘fare’, meaning to travel, which shows that a fjord is something you can cross to get to somewhere else. This was the situation as recently as a hundred years ago. The fjords were transport routes, the mountains were barriers.
At 250 kilometres in length, the Sognefjord is Norway’s longest fjord. Only Greenland has longer fjords than Norway. The Sognefjord is in Sogn og Fjordane county and goes all the way from Jotunheimen in the east, the mountain area where the giant Jotuns of Norse mythology were said to live, to the coast of Western Norway. The fjord is 1,308 metres deep at its deepest, but only 100 metres deep at its mouth.
It is easy to become fascinated by the unique natural formations of the fjords and the enormous forces of nature that created them. Year after year, the Norwegian fjords are ranked among the world’s most impressive and attractive travel destinations. Two of them are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. One of the two is the Nærøyfjord, an arm of the Sognefjord. National Geographic calls the Norwegian fjords ‘the world’s best and most unspoilt travel destination’, while the Chicago Tribune calls the fjords ‘one of the seven wonders of nature’.