Fjord. Sound. The words alone conjure images of majestic, untamed landscapes: dazzling mountain reflections gleaming in deep, placid waters far below; ice-encrusted peaks soaring above sweeping, submerged valleys. It’s the allure of scenes like this that draws travellers to the ends of the Earth in search of dramatic, wild places. Fjords and sounds are among the most magical places on Earth. But what exactly are they, and what’s the difference between fjords and sounds? We’re going to take a closer look, and to do this, we need to delve into the realms of etymology and geography…

Viking vernacular

We have the legendary Vikings to thank for the words ‘fjord’ and ‘sound’. Fjord comes from the Old Norse word fjǫrthr meaning “to travel across”. Fjǫrthr also gave rise to the English words ‘fare’ and ‘ferry’. Sound stems from the Old Norse word sund meaning “swimming” or “strait”.

Each of these words refers to a specific geographical formation, but over time they have often been used interchangeably, sometimes even mistakenly! For example, did you know that Milford Sound in New Zealand is technically a fjord, and Limfjord in Denmark is actually a sound?

What’s the difference between a fjord and a sound?

A fjord is an underwater valley carved by glaciers. Generally narrow, with steep-sided mountains on either side, these U and V shaped valleys were carved by ancient rivers of ice which have since disappeared. Because these valleys are below sea level, they have been inundated with sea water, creating the fjords we see today.

The deepest fjord in the world is Skelton Inlet in Antarctica, which reaches 1,933 m (6,342 ft) below sea level. It was discovered by the British National Antarctic Expedition (1901-1904), led by renowned polar explorer, Robert Falcon Scott. The fjord was named after their chief engineer, Lt. Reginald W. Skelton.

The longest fjord in the world is Scoresbysund in Greenland, extending an impressive 350 km (217 mi) into the east Greenland coast. Scoresbysund is a network of interconnected fjords, some of which are up to 1,450 m (4,760 ft) deep! Strangely in English, Scoresbysund means Scoresby Sound.

Explore Scoresbysund on our Jewels of the Arctic or Arctic Complete cruises.

What is a sound?

Like a fjord, a sound is a valley that has been filled with sea water. However, a sound is usually formed by the flooding of a river valley, not a glacial valley. This means that the topography is usually less narrow and more gently sloping than a fjord, but it is no less spectacular.

Cruising through an immaculate sound amongst the pack ice is an absolutely unforgettable experience.

Where will you find fjords and sounds?

Our expedition cruises take you deep into the remote and wild places of the world, and many of our voyages (particularly in the Arctic, Antarctica and Norway) sail along spectacular fjords and sounds. Trollfjorden in Lofoten, the Magdalenefjorden in Spitsbergen and the Antarctic Sound – these are only a few of the magnificent fjords and sounds we can visit on our expeditions.


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