Terrain shapes and bedrock
COUNTRYAAH, Iceland is a young lava plateau with no less than 200–300
volcanoes, of which about 30 are active. Geologically, the
island differs radically from the closest land areas of
Greenland, Scotland and Norway. The island's volcanic
character has its explanation in that it is a part of the
Atlantic central ridge rising above the sea surface. The
reason why a large island was formed here is that the ridge
lies straight over a hot spot, which has resulted in an
abnormally large outflow of magma.
The rocks in Iceland are mostly volcanic basalts of
different ages. The oldest are plateau basal salts from the
neogene in the west and northeast (14-18 million years old).
During the recent ice age, volcanic eruptions occurred
partly down the ice sheet, which caused fragmentation of the
lava. The solutes, however, were converted to a hard, hard
rock, so-called hyaloclastitis. Volcanism in post-glacial
times is concentrated in the rift, or the active central
zone of the Atlantic Central Ridge, which covers about 30%
of the country's surface. The rift has a western and an
eastern branch, which in northern Iceland merge into one.
Here, primarily light-flowing lavor is produced, and long
crater chains are built up. However, around volcano centers
there are also Andesites, Dacites andryolites in the form of
viscous liquor and tea.
The eastern zone includes: Vestmannaeyjar with Surtsey,
formed in 1963-67, and Heimaey where the volcano Eldfell
erupted in 1973.
Along this zone are most of Iceland's active volcanoes.
Among these, Katla is marked during Mýrdalsjökull and Hekla
with about twenty outbreaks each in historical time,
furthermore Laki, Tröllagígar, Grímsvötn, Kverkfjöll and
Askja as well as Krafla with nine outbreaks in 1975–84. A
number of outbreaks have been documented in the western
zone, e.g. at the formation of Eldeyjar 1211, Trölladyngja
and Eldborgir. At the Langjökull Glacier, this zone turns
east and joins the east. To the east of the actual spread
zone lies Öræfajökull, a volcano covered by southern
Vatnajökull ice masses and with Iceland's highest peak,
Hvannadalshnúkur, 2,119 m above sea level.
Other expressions of Iceland's volcanically active
bedrock are solar fathoms with outflow of steam and hot
water in springs. Some of the sources are intermittent, ie.
Water is thrown out at regular intervals, and is called
Glaciers cover 11% of the island's surface. The largest
is Vatnajökull, 8 400 km2, then Hofsjökull,
Langjökull and Mýrdalsjökull.
The plateau glaciers descend into valley glaciers and in
front of these, sandy fields are built up. A wide network of
river arms extends across these vast sandy areas, which has
created great difficulties for accessibility and for road
and bridge construction.
Iceland is dominated by a plateau and fjord landscape
with an average height of 500 m above sea level. Only one
quarter of the landscape is lower than 200 m above sea
level. The relief is characteristic of a young topography
with mostly sharp-cut and spiny shapes, which are evident
because no forest and often no vegetation obscures the view.
Frost weathering is very effective because of the bedrock
cracks and the constant shifts around the freezing point.
Through the continual new formation of bedrock along the
rift, central Iceland is lowered and the plateau basalts
therefore tilt inward. The glacial erosion of the ice age
has deepened the original river valleys and sometimes faults
have contributed, e.g. i Skagafjörður. The wave erosion has
created a continental shelf and wide beach plan as well as
impressive coastal cliffs, especially on the south and west
coasts. The lava beds stored on top of each other and the
pillar gap of the basalt are conspicuous landscape elements.
In the interior, active volcanism has created a more open
topography with clear linear features in the form of
fracture zones, valleys, ridge ridges and crater rows as
well as larger volcanoes andplateau mountain.
The rivers in Iceland are short but have relatively high
flow due to high rainfall. The farthest is Thjórsá. The
glacial rivers, one of the three river types in
Iceland, are heavily sediment-laden and often meander over
large sandy areas. Another type of rivers, migratory
rivers (clear water rivers), dewatering the old basalt
areas, has a large number of small falls and strongly
varying water flow. A third river type, riverine lakes,
dewateres the post-glacial basalt areas, has a constant
water flow and temperature, and clear water. The largest
waterfall is Dettifoss (48 m) in Jökulsá á Fjöllum, and the
most visited is Gullfoss (about 50 m in two ledges).
Numerous lakes exist, some of tectonic origin, such as
Thingvallavatn, others are dammed by lava flows, e.g.
Myvatn. Sudden drops of ice lakes, so-called glacier races,
can be disastrous. Grímsvötn in Vatnajökull is the most
famous; a glacier can reach a water flow of 50,000 m 3
per second here.
Iceland's location mainly south of the Arctic Circle
results in a humid climate that borders between warm and
cold temperatures (see Climate: Earth's Climate). The
climate is mitigated by the surrounding large sea areas and
by the North Atlantic current with its western branch, the
Irminger stream, which extends near the south, west and
parts of the north coast. However, from the north comes a
branch of the cold East Greenlandic current, which can bring
drift ice to the north and east coasts. The polar front, the
boundary between icy air and warm air from the south, is
often located across the island, which is why many migrating
low pressures cause windy and humid weather, especially
during the winter months.
The annual average temperature is at most about 5 °C in
the southern and southwestern coastal regions, and about –9
°C in the coldest regions in the northwestern part of
Vatnajökull. The summers are cool with an average July
temperature of around 11 °C in the southernmost parts and
in some valley regions in the north. Most of Iceland
therefore belongs to the Arctic climate group according to
Köppen's climate classification. Winters are mild and rainy
with an average January temperature of 0 °C in the south
and −15 °C above the inland glaciers. However, the
temperature deviations can be large: if the weather fronts
pass south of the island, cold air is brought down from the
polar area, but if they migrate north, warm air is
introduced over Iceland. The absolute heat record is 30.5 °C and the cold record is -39.7 °C. Föhnvindar under
favorable conditions, high temperatures also lead to
wintertime, and the heat record in February is 20.5 °C,
warmer than in any other country in the Nordic countries.
The rainfall can amount to about 2,000 mm per year in the
south, although the southern slopes of the glaciers can get
over 4,000 mm per year. In the north, the precipitation is
between 400 and 1000 mm per year. In the northwest, snow
falls for about 100 days, in the south below 40.
Heavy dust storms can form when hard, dry winds from the
glaciers spread down over the surrounding dry sandy fields
and stir up sand and dust. Particularly frequent are dust
storms north of Vatnajökull in the summer and autumn.
Thunderstorms are rare in Iceland, but can occur when humid
air masses are carried north across the southern coastal
regions in late summer or in ash clouds from active
Plant-and animal life
Iceland's flora and fauna are relatively young and poor
in species. Immigration of plants and animals took place
only after the latest icing and the low number of species is
due to Iceland's isolated and northern location. The species
is northwestern European with few purely arctic features and
no endemic species.
Nowadays, a quarter of Iceland is covered by vegetation,
compared to twice the size of the first settlements in
Iceland in the 8th century. The early settlers used the
low-grown birch forests (then 30 percent of the island's
area) as fuel and for cattle grazing. Human intervention has
drastically reduced the forests (now 1 percent of the
island's surface) and has thus initiated extensive erosion.
Iceland's central highlands lack natural vegetation for
natural reasons, with the exception of some marshes (where,
among other things, Spetsberg Goose hedges) and some drier
lands with species such as mountain sip, purple clay and
mountain meadow. In the lowlands, grass and rice species
with ropes, redwing, crowberry, heather, dwarf birch and
low-growing species prevail in the genus Know. The wetlands
are dominated by starches.
Large areas of Iceland are completely vegetation-free or
covered by lava. New lava is first invaded by lichen and
dragonfly, then by rice and bushes and finally, if
development is allowed to continue, by glass birch.
High-herb vegetation is found in places that have
favorable microclimate or are protected from sheep grazing.
Locations with concentrated geothermal heat (hot springs)
have special flora and fauna, such as flies of the genus
The bird fauna comprises about 75 breeding species
(another approximately 300 species have been observed); most
are seabirds attached to the bird mountains (for example
Vestmannaeyjar), ducks and waders. Common puffins and other
alcs are common, as are storm birds and various gulls.
Iceland has several colonies with seabirds (among others on
the island of Eldey, where the last known pair of the now
extinct turtle was killed in 1844) and large lab.
Common waders are heather whiskers, small spawls and
small -beaked snake snakes (broad-beaked snake nest with few
pairs), and of birds of prey there are hunting falcon, rock
falcon, sea eagle (few) and earth owl. The number of
species of seals is small, with meadow spruce and red-wing
traits being the most common. Iceland has an endemic
subspecies of bait.
Of terrestrial mammals, mountain foxes are native, while
mink, reindeer and a few species of small rodents have come
through human care. Frogs and crawfish are completely
missing. The insects comprise about 1,250 species, among
which, for example, day butterflies, mosquitoes and ants are
missing. Rivers and lakes are often rich in gnats and
midges, and therefore also of carnivorous salmonids (salmon,
trout and char). The waters around Iceland contain more than
150 marine fish species, and the fauna of the coastal
bottoms and beaches is rich.
Lake Mývatn houses one of the world's largest
concentrations of nesting ducks (13 species) with, among
other things, the island snake and stream (the latter only
in flowing water). These two species together with Islam
form the North American feature of the bird fauna; none of
them breed in the rest of Europe.
The Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, an archipelago of 15
islands south of the mainland, has Iceland's largest bird
mountain. Most commonly lunnefågel (about 1 million pairs)
followed by Leach's Storm Petrel (167000-225000 pair), storm
cool (50,000 to 100,000 pair), Fulmar (65 000 pairs),
Guillemot (60 000 pairs) and kittiwakes (32 000 pairs). In
order to extinguish the one-sided diet of fish, the
population collects eggs of storm birds and alcoves, young
soles and catch adult adult puffins every year.
Other famous birdwatchers in Iceland are Eldey,
Skoruvik-Skalabjarg, Grimsey, Skrúður, Hornbjarg and
Latrabjarg, with the country's largest colony of spetsberg
grissla (80,000–164,000 pairs). At Thjorsarver south of
Hofsjökull Glacier in central Iceland, with marshes, lakes
and streams scattered on the tundra, there is the largest
concentration of spetsberg goose with 6,000 to 10,000
The thousands of islands and tidal areas at Breiðafjörður
on the western part of the island house more than 40,000
pairs of eider, large cormorant, top cormorant, white-tailed
and sea-tailed, and in spring and autumn large flocks of
barbed goose and shorebirds gather on their way between the
nesting areas in Greenland and wintering areas in winter.
More than 20 different species of whales and dolphins
live regularly in the waters around Iceland. Most common are
minke whales, porpoises vitnosdelfin and humpback whales,
but killer whales, northern bottlenose whale, Atlantic
white-sided dolphin, pilot whale, fin whale, blue whale and
the sperm whale is rare. More than 100,000 tourists visit
Iceland every year for whale watching.
Six different species of seals occur, especially in
northern Iceland where seal sighting is offered on the
Vatnsnes Peninsula. In addition to the harbor seals and gray
seals, who are resident, visited Iceland every year by the
harp, blåssäl, ringed seals and bearded (rare).
Nature conservation in Iceland consists of national
parks, national parks, nature reserves and monuments and
covers about 15% of the country's area. Around 80
nature-protected areas can be found in Iceland (2012).
National parks are set up on state land to
protect unique landscapes, flora and fauna, or places of
special historical significance. Iceland's three national
parks are Þingvellir, Snaefellsjökull and Vatnajökull (see
table). The largest protected area in Iceland is Vatnajökull,
which with an area of 13,000 km2 is the largest
national park in Europe. The area includes Vatnajökull
glacier, Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur. Thingvellir is one
of Iceland's most popular tourist destinations with a
dramatic landscape on the Atlantic Central Ridge, the
dispersal zone between the North American and Eurasian
tectonic plates. Lake Thingvallavatn, Iceland's largest, is
a unique biotope thanks to mineral supply from volcanic
activity. Snaefellsjökull National Park includes the
stratovolcano of the same name and a glacier in the western
part of the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
Nature reserves are protected areas for
sensitive nature, flora and fauna, with limited visitor and
exploitation rights. Monuments include unique and
beautiful natural phenomena of high conservation value or
scientific interest. fossil and mineral deposits, geological
formations, waterfalls, volcanoes and hot springs.
Landsparker enjoys less strict nature protection, is
established on local initiative and is intended for