We investigate the long-term geomorphological evolution of the inselberg plains on the glaciated northern Fennoscandian shield. The shield surface has been largely stripped of pre-Quaternary correlative sediments and saprolites by non-glacial and glacial erosion, which make investigations of pre-Quaternary landscape development a challenge. The relief of the study area, covering 33,000 km2 in the centre of the shield in northern Sweden, includes an abundance of inselbergs that provide the basis for the study. We examine the relief of the inselberg plains, integrated with glacial-geomorphologic features, geology, and weathering remnants, by using GIS-analysis and fieldwork. Several key areas are used to demonstrate the impact of glaciations on the large-scale relief, and the influence of geology, structure and deep weathering on relief formation. Glacial erosion had only a minor impact on the large-scale bedrock morphology of northern Sweden.
Based on excavations and observations in the Parkajoki area, an area largely preserved under cold-based ice during Quaternary glaciations, we infer that grus weathering, resulting in saprolite covers of up to 10-20 m thickness, occurred in the Neogene. However, inselbergs are considerably higher than that, and must therefore be the result of older deep weathering and erosional events. Narrow fracture zones associated with deep kaolins found in northern Fennoscandia may represent the roots of older generations of deep weathering covers but their age and formation is yet unclear. The geology of the area has greatly influenced the present surface relief. The positions and footprints of the inselbergs are often closely controlled by bedrock type and fracturing. Granite inselbergs generally have dome forms where dome shape and slopes are determined by joint patterns. Steps between palaeosurfaces locally coincide with lithological boundaries and major faults. These links indicate the fundamental importance of etch processes in shaping the relief through multiple cycles of deep weathering and stripping. Palaeosurfaces have been extended and lowered through time, with isolation of small inselbergs during erosion of higher palaeosurfaces. The timescales for relief generation remain uncertain and there is a pressing need to understand the significance of and to date the sediments, saprolites and weathered ore bodies that rest on the surface of the northern Fennoscandian shield.