Geography of Iceland

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Native name: Ísland
Nickname: Land of Fire and Ice
Iceland sat cleaned.png
Satellite image of Iceland
Iceland (orthographic projection).svg
Coordinates 65°00′N 18°00′W / 65.000°N 18.000°W / 65.000; -18.000
Adjacent bodies of water Atlantic Ocean
Area 103,001 km2 (39,769 sq mi)
Area rank 18th
Coastline 4,970 km (3,088 mi)
Highest elevation 2,110 m (6,920 ft)
Highest point Hvannadalshnúkur
Largest settlement Reykjavík (pop. 118,861)
Population 330,000 (as of 2015)
Density 3.3 /km2 (8.5 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Icelanders, Poles
Additional information
Time zone

The geography of Iceland entails the geographic features of Iceland, an island country at the confluence of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. Iceland is located east of Greenland and immediately south of the Arctic Circle, atop the constructive boundary of the northern Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It lies about 860 km (534 mi) from Scotland and 4,200 km (2,610 mi) from New York City. One of the world's most sparsely populated countries, the republic of Iceland's boundaries are almost completely the same as the main island – the world's 18th largest in area and possessing almost all of the country's area and population.

Iceland has extensive volcanic and geothermal activity. The rift associated with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which marks the division between the European and North American tectonic plates, runs across Iceland from the southwest to the northeast. This geographic feature is prominent at the Þingvellir National Park, where the promontory creates an extraordinary natural amphitheatre. The site was the home of Iceland's parliament, the Alþing, which was first convened in 930. It is a common misconception that Þingvellir are located at the juncture between the North American and Eurasian continental plates. However, they are in fact at the juncture of the North American continental plate and a smaller plate (approx. 10,000 km2) called the Hreppar Microplate (Hreppaflekinn).[1]

About half of Iceland's land area, which is of recent volcanic origin, consists of a mountainous lava desert (highest elevation 2,110 m (6,923 ft) above sea level) and other wasteland. Around 10.2 per cent of the total land area is covered by glaciers, although these are now retreating at an accelerating rate.[2] The four largest Icelandic glaciers are:

Other notable glaciers include:

Twenty per cent of the land is used for grazing, while only 1 per cent is cultivated. Iceland has lost most of the woodland that previously covered large areas of the country, but an ambitious reforestation programme is currently underway.[3] Fossilized tree pollen and descriptions by the early settlers indicate that prior to human settlement, now thought to have occurred from around the year 800 onwards,[4][5] trees covered between 30 and 40 per cent of the island. Today, however, there are only small patches of the original birch forests left, the most prominent being Hallormsstaðaskógur and Vaglaskógur.

The inhabited areas are on the coast, particularly in the southwest, while the central highlands are all but uninhabited.

Because of the Gulf Stream's moderating influence, the climate is characterized by damp, cool summers and relatively mild but windy winters. Reykjavík has an average temperature of 12 °C (53.6 °F) in July and 1 °C (34 °F) in January[6] (Köppen: Cfc).


Dettifoss, located in northeast Iceland. It is the largest waterfall in Europe in terms of volume discharge, with an average water flow of 200 m3/second.
Island in North America (Commonly regarded as a part of Northern Europe), straddling the Eurasian and North American plates between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the British Isles.
Map references
Arctic Region

39,769 sq miles (103,001 km²)
  • Total: 103,125 km²
  • Land: 100,329 km²
  • Water: 2,796 km²
Land boundaries
0 km
4,970 km
Maritime claims
  • Territorial sea: 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi)
  • Exclusive economic zone: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi)
  • Continental shelf: 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) or to the edge of the continental margin
Temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; cool summers, damp in the south and west
Mostly plateau interspersed with mountain peaks, icefields; coast deeply indented by bays and fjords
Elevation extremes
  • Lowest point: Jökulsárlón Lagoon: -146 m, Atlantic Ocean 0 m
  • Highest point: Hvannadalshnúkur 2,110 m
Natural resources
Fish, hydropower, geothermal power, diatomite
Land use
  • Arable land: 1.21%
  • Permanent crops: 0%
  • Other: 98.79% (2012)
Irrigated land
Total renewable water resources
170 km3 (2011)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)
Total: 0.17 km3/yr (49%/8%/42%)
Per capita: 539.2 m3/yr (2005)
Natural hazards
Earthquakes, volcanic activity, avalanches, and glacial lake outburst flooding (or jökulhlaups)
Environment—current issues
Water pollution from fertilizer runoff; inadequate wastewater treatment
Environment—international agreements
Westernmost European country; more land covered by glaciers than in all of continental Europe


Iceland is not antipodal to any land mass. The closest are the Balleny Islands off Antarctica, claimed by New Zealand. The antipodes of the northernmost of these, Young Island, lie between Flatey and Grímsey Islands off the north central Icelandic coast, about 10 km from either.

Geological activity[edit]

A geyser in Iceland

A geologically young land, Iceland is located on both the Iceland hotspot and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs right through it. This location means that the island is highly geologically active with many volcanoes, notably Hekla, Eldgjá, Herðubreið and Eldfell

Iceland has many geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived.

With the widespread availability of geothermal power, and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity. See geothermal power in Iceland.

The island is composed primarily of basalt, a low-silica lava associated with effusive volcanism as has occurred also in Hawaii. Iceland, however, has a variety of volcanic types (composite and fissure), many producing more evolved lavas such as rhyolite and andesite. Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes with approx. 30 volcanic systems active.[7]

Maps and images[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Plate boundaries, rifts and transforms in Iceland" (PDF). JÖKULL No. 58, 2008. Institute of Earth Sciences, University of Iceland. Retrieved 19 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "Heildarstærð jökla á Íslandi 2014 (“Total surface area of Icelandic glaciers 2014”)" (PDF). Loftmyndir ehf. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  3. ^ "Forestry in a treeless land". Iceland Forest Service. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "New View on the Origin of First Settlers in Iceland". Iceland Review Online. 4 June 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  6. ^ "Mánaðarmeðaltöl fyrir stöð 1 - Reykjavík (“Monthly data for station No 1 - Reykjavík”)". Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  7. ^ Carmichael, I.S.E. (1964). "The Petrology of Thingmuli, a Tertiary Volcano in Eastern Iceland" (PDF). J. Petrology 5 (3): 435–460. doi:10.1093/petrology/5.3.435. 

External links[edit]