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.