Iceland Geography

Iceland is situated in the North Atlantic Ocean, just south of the arctic cycle and about 185 miles (300 km) east of Greenland and about 620 miles (1,000 km) west of Norway. The second largest island in Europe, Iceland is 39,768 square miles (103,000 sq. km) in size, slightly smaller in area than Kentucky. Hyannadalshnukur at 6,952 feet (2,119 m) is the island’s highest peak.

Iceland is not, as you might think, completely covered in ice. It is, in fact, much greener than its neighboring island of Greenland. Located on a geological hot spot on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a volcanic island that has many active volcanoes. It is one of the most active volcanic countries in the world, averaging one eruption every five years. About 10 percent of the island is covered by glaciers, including Vatnajökull, the largest on the European continent.

Iceland lies directly on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly heading in different directions. Even though Iceland culturally and geographically belongs to Europe, half of it lies on the American plate, which is drifting westwards at about 1-2 cm a year.

Due to the country’s great diversity of natural phenomena, few visitors leave Iceland without a sense of wonder. Apart from active volcanoes and glaciers, the island is home to lava fields, thermal pools, fertile farmlands, desert plateaus and Europe’s biggest waterfalls. Because of Iceland’s abundance of hot springs (geysers), which have an average water temperature of about 75 degrees Celsius (167 F), most residents enjoy the widespread availability of geothermal energy and can heat their houses for a low price. The country’s many rivers and waterfalls are also used to generate electrical power.

Iceland’s scenery is green and rugged and there are many fjords along the coastline. The island’s interior, the Highlands of Iceland, is a cold and uninhabitable desert. Iceland is surrounded by many smaller islands with the island of Grímsey being the northernmost inhabited one. There are four national parks: Skaftafell National Park, Snæfellsnes National Park, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park and Þingvellir.