The Geography of the Khibiny

The Khibiny is a special place on the Kola Peninsula that has been attracting visitors for over two centuries. They are neither high nor extensive but they never fail to leave a lasting impression and stir up special feelings. An off-road vehicle will let you get into the very heart of the Khibiny where you’ll see spectacular mountain valleys, paths, lakes, and waterfalls. Only in the Khibiny mountains perfectly transparent rivers have such a fantastic aquamarine color.

The Khibiny Tundras Mountain Massif is in the center of the Murmansk Region. The massif is of oval shape, 40km long north to south, and 50km west to east. A characteristic feature of the Khibiny is flat mountain tops and deep U-shaped river valleys. The plateau shape of mountains is a consequence of the Khibiny forming by multi-phase elevation of the Earth crust while U-shaped valleys are the result of their glacier origin. At this time there is no glaciation in the Khibiny, with only four possible and unconfirmed small glaciers. The massif continues rising at the rate of 1-2cm per year.

Among typical landscape forms of the Khibiny are glacier cirques and kars – cup-like depressions in mountain slopes, formed by ancient mountain glaciers, U-shaped trough valleys (valleys of Kukisvuvum, Petrelius, Gakman) and V- or C-shaped tectonic valleys and ravines formed from cracks in earth crust.

Geologically , the Khibiny are an ancient intrusion – an intra-crust penetration of magma without it coming to contact with Earth surface. This intrusion took place about 600 million years ago. After the penetration magma gradually cooled down and turned into rock. During the geological epochs that followed the entire territory of present-day Kola Peninsula gradually elevated, which was accompanied by the destruction (weathering) and elimination of the upper part of the crust. Weathering, together with the removal of material by rivers and glaciers, gradually exposed the magma intrusion. In the last 30-40 million years the body of the cooled intrusion was elevated over the surrounding planes by tectonic processes. That’s how the mountains had formed.

Rivers in the Khibiny are small, very clean, and cold (with average summer temperature of about 6C). River valleys are straight and their profile has steps and rapids. Rivers start in cirques and path lakes, or from merging streams by foothills. They are up to 20m wide and 1-2m deep when leaving the mountains, with bed slopes in the 0.5-1 range.

The Flora of Khibiny is of the subarctic alpine type and includes about 400 higher plants and various types of mosses and lichens. Landscapes are sharply divided into strata. Bottoms of valleys are occupied by elfin birch forest and mixed northern taiga with fir and pine. On the slopes the vegetation changes from forest-tundra to alpine tundra and then arctic desert on plateau peaks. Toughness of growth conditions makes birch trees crooked and sparse, firs in the forest zone are short, with cross-grained trunks and wide skirts of branches in the snow-covered lower part of the stem. Species diversity is extremely low.