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The Republic of Iceland (Lýdveldid Iceland) or the
island of Iceland forms the westernmost part of Europe
and lies around 300 km from Greenland and 800 km from
Scotland in the Atlantic Ocean. With an area of
103,000 km², Iceland is roughly the size of the two
German states of Bavaria and Baden-W¨¹rttemberg combined.
The island is a part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that
rises above sea level, a zone that was created by the
drifting apart of the American and Eurasian and African
plates. As with other plate boundaries of this type, it
is a zone of intense tectonic activity: Iceland is made
entirely of volcanic material. There are over two dozen
active volcanoes and a large number of hot springs,
geysers and solfataras (points of exit for hydrogen
sulfide-containing water vapors). Earthquakes are a
Only a quarter of the area of the mountainous
island is less than 200 m, dominated by plateaus and
In the south and southwest of the island there is a
flat, wide coastal plain with gravel fields reaching far
into the hinterland. The coasts in the west, north and
northeast of Iceland are partly steep and rugged and
characterized by wide bays and fjords that cut deep into
the mainland (eg Breidafjord: 63 km wide, 110 km long).
The capital Reykjav¨ªk is located in the west of the
island in Faxa Bay .
About a tenth of the country's surface is taken up by
glaciers. With an area of around 8,455 km2,
Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in all of Europe.
Hvannadalshn¨²kur is the highest mountain in the country
with around 2 119 m.
The largest lake in Iceland is Thingvallavatn,
located to the east of Reykjav¨ªk, with an area of
approx. 84 km². The rivers on the island have many
waterfalls (eg Dettifoss 44 m), the longest river is the
Thj¨®rs¨¢ with a length of around 230 km.
The cool, temperate climate of Iceland with short,
cool summers and mild winters is determined by an
extension of the Gulf Stream.
Average temperatures in the capital, Reykjav¨ªk, are
around freezing in January and 11 ¡ã C in July. This
results in an average annual temperature of approx. 5 ¡ã
C (in Nome in Alaska on the same latitude it is 3 ¡ã C).
Average annual precipitation decreases from south to
north (Reykjav¨ªk 860 mm, Akureyri 470 mm). The driest
areas of the island with values of around 300 mm
annually are on the north coast or inland.
Flora and fauna
Before human settlement, around 20% of the island was
covered by forests; due to clearing, overgrazing and ash
and sulfur rain as a result of volcanic eruptions, today
it is only around 2% (especially birch and willow). It
is dominated by tundra vegetation, which consists of
mosses, grasses and lichens. Other forms of vegetation
are low moor meadows and dwarf shrub heaths. A rarity
among flowering plants is the Arctic Willowherb, which
does not occur in any other European country.
The only domestic land mammal is the arctic fox,
while reindeer, mice, cats and dogs were introduced.
Icelandic ponies have been bred on the island since the
Middle Ages and are known for their robustness. Some
herds live semi-wild on the island. The bird life is
very diverse, on the partly inaccessible coasts live sea
eagles, puffins, gannets and fulmars. In the highlands
you can find Odin's Chicken, Snowy Owls and the rare
Gyrfalcon. Lake Mývatn in the northeast of the island is
one of the largest breeding grounds for a wide variety
of ducks. The island's inland and coastal waters are
rich in fish.
A population of 318,000 results in one of the lowest
population densities in Europe. The structure of the
population is very homogeneous: 96% are Icelanders,
smaller minorities are Danes, Americans, Swedes and
Germans. According to COUNTRYAAH,
almost 97% of the population belong to the
Evangelical Lutheran Church. The official language is
While around 80% of the population still lived in
rural areas at the beginning of the 20th century, almost
the entire Icelandic population (90%) now lives in
cities. The most populous settlement is the capital
Reykjav¨ªk with around 119,600 people.
The social and health care system in Iceland is very
well developed and life expectancy is very high in a
global comparison (women 82.3 years, men 78.1 years).
Population growth is around 0.9%. Education is very
important in Iceland; literacy is extensive thanks to a
ten-year comprehensive school.
Iceland is a democratic-parliamentary republic
according to the constitution of 1944. The head of state
is the President, elected directly by the people for
four years (since 1996 Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson), who is
also the head of the Evangelical Lutheran State Church.
He appoints the Prime Minister as head of government
(Sigmundur Dav¨ªð Gunnlaugsson since 2013).
The legislative branch is Althing, one of the oldest
legislative assemblies in the world. The 63 members of
the Althing are elected by the people for four years
(proportional representation). Significant parties are
the Independence Party, the Social Democrats, the
Progress Party and the Left Greens.
Iceland is divided into eight regions.
The global financial crisis hit Iceland hard and led
to the collapse of the Icelandic banking system in 2008.
The country threatened by national bankruptcy received
international financial aid. The International Monetary
Fund (IMF) ended its program in summer 2011. In 2012,
gross domestic product (GDP) was positive for the second
time in a row (+ 1.6%). Unemployment was 6%.
Fishing, fish processing and the export of fish are
gradually becoming less important than industry and
services. Livestock farming predominates, especially
sheep farming and cattle breeding and dairy farming.
Less than 1% of the country's area is used to cultivate
potatoes and beets, and vegetables and fruits are grown
in greenhouses that are heated by hot springs.
Agriculture employs around 6% of the total workforce,
and a good 7% of GDP is generated here.
The energy industry and energy-intensive industries,
especially aluminum production with inexpensive
electricity from hydro or geothermal power plants, were
expanded. The electricity is generated 100% from
renewable energies. Other branches of industry are
machines and equipment for the food industry, IT /
software, medical and pharmaceutical products. Tourism
continues to grow in importance. Around 650,000 visitors
come every year to enjoy the original landscape.
The main exports are to the Netherlands, Germany and
The largest international airport is at Keflav¨ªk near
the capital, Reykjav¨ªk. The infrastructure outside the
cities is not very well developed; Of the approximately
13,000 kilometers of road, only 4,300 are paved and can
therefore be used all year round.
The currency is the Icelandic krona (= 100 Aurar).