Iceland Geography

Iceland Geography

Iceland is located in the North Atlantic between the Norwegian Sea, the Danish Strait and the open ocean, going from 63º lat. N to the Arctic Circle; it represents the emerging part of a vast submarine platform formed in the northern section of the great mid-Atlantic ridge. Structurally it is made up of powerful stratified basaltic formations, of Cenozoic origin, elaborated by glacialism. Volcanism and glacialism combined and equally grandiose are therefore the two fundamental traits of Icelandic geomorphology, so that the island, whose name means “land of ice”, is also known as the “island of fire”. The volcanism, which is distinguished by number (over 200) and variety of devices (most of which rises from the lava expanse dell’Óđádhahraun), has resulted in even very recent events; the best known are the Vestmannaeyjar islands, off the southwestern coasts, where in 1963 an underwater volcanic eruption gave rise to the islet of Surtsey and where in January 1973 the homonymous town of Vestmannaeyjar had to be evacuated due to a violent eruption. The forms of secondary volcanism are still widespread and very important, including geysers, the hot water springs that represent one of the main characteristics and riches of the country. The term derives from Geysir, the Icelandic town that gave its name to this phenomenon. The Pleistocene glacialism, which invaded the entire island, had a profound effect on the morphology created by the volcanic expansions: the rounded shapes of the reliefs are due to it, which in several points are around 1700 m (Hofsjökull, 1765 m; Vatnajökull, 1725 m) and which reach 2119 m in the Hvannadalshnúkur. The glaciers, with the appearance of huge iced domes, are still very extensive (indeed they are the largest in Europe): they occupy an area of ​​13,000 km² of which 8456 belong to Vatnajökull, in the SE of the island. Essentially mountainous, Iceland has a series of plateaus, surmounted by volcanoes and icy domes, which generally reach as far as the sea; the coastal plains are very small, formed by fluvioglacial deposits, except in the southern part of the country, where there are relatively large ones. The coasts, mostly high and rocky, are variously articulated and often carved by deep inlets, similar to Norwegian fjords.


Given its marginal position with respect to the main sea routes, the island remained uninhabited for a long time; only in the century. IX some Irish monks arrived there, then groups of Norwegians, to whom we owe the first stable population of the island. It is estimated that already at the beginning of the century. X there were approx. 25,000 residents; later, thanks to the lively trade with Norway, Iceland enjoyed a certain prosperity, which favored the increase of the population; but the subsequent oppressive Danish rule caused an economic and demographic stagnation: at the end of the century. There were just 80,000 Icelanders in the nineteenth century. The conquest of autonomy first, and then of full independence, marked the stages of the recovery of the country, which went from 120,000 residents from 1930 to 254,000 in 1989 and over 293,000 in 2004. In this way Iceland has one of the lowest population densities in Europe (3 residents/km²). The insularity has favored a very homogeneous ethnic composition (and a genetic heritage) of the population, which, almost all, is of Celtic and Nordic origin. According to iamhigher, the demographic dynamics of Iceland did not suffer, in the last decades of the century. XX, no substantial changes. Between 2002 and 2007, the annual growth rate was 1.5% and the natural increase is around 8.4 ‰ (2007). Urbanization began in the 1940s and causes 92% (2008) of the population to reside in urban areas. Reykjavík, with its 196,564 residents, is the only important urban area in the country.


The vegetation of Iceland is of the European arctic type: mosses and lichens are the prevalent vegetation cover of Northern Iceland, while grassy areas, pastures and moors, important for breeding, are concentrated along the southern coasts of the island.. The forest, which in historical times covered the territory, has completely disappeared. Some reforestation programs with birch, willow and fir trees were started in the 1970s (0.3% of the surface), present in the more sheltered and temperate southwestern regions. The climatic conditions do not even favor the development of fruit trees: mainly blueberries and bearberry grow. The only indigenous mammals are the Arctic fox, which inhabited the island already at the time of the first human settlements, and the polar bear, which from nearby Greenland occasionally reaches the island on floating ice shelves, creating some problems for the population.. Among the animals introduced from the outside are the reindeer, the mink and the wild mouse. Neither reptiles nor amphibians live on the island, while approx. 100 species of birds. Several duck colonies have their natural habitat around Lake Mývatn in the northern region. Freshwater fish include eels, salmon, trout and arctic char. The fishy marine waters are populated by cod and herring. Seals and whales have almost completely disappeared following decades of indiscriminate hunting. To preserve the huge natural heritage, the government has declared more than 80 areas of the country (7.1%) protected in the form of natural monuments, landscape reserves, national parks and wildlife refuges. Particularly important are the three national parks, Thingvellir (established in 1928, south-central Iceland), Skaftafell (established in 1967, southeast Iceland) and Jkulösárgljúfur (established in 1973, northeastern Iceland). The main environmental issues concern the pollution of surface waters, caused by the use of fertilizers, and inadequate treatment of some discharges. Concern is also raised by the intensive exploitation of fish resources and the preservation of the balance of the marine habitat.

Iceland Country and People

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