Iceland Travel Information

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Natural History of Iceland Photo Guide to the Natural History of Iceland.

Facts About Iceland

Background: Settled by Norwegian and Celtic (Scottish and Irish) immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D., Iceland boasts the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930. Independent for over 300 years, Iceland was subsequently ruled by Norway and Denmark. Fallout from the Askja volcano of 1875 devastated the Icelandic economy and caused widespread famine. Over the next quarter century, 20% of the island's population emigrated, mostly to Canada and the US. Limited home rule from Denmark was granted in 1874 and complete independence attained in 1944. Literacy, longevity, income, and social cohesion are first-rate by world standards.
Government type: constitutional republic
Capital: Reykjavik
Currency: 1 Icelandic krona (IKr) = 100 aurar

Geography of Iceland

Location: Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the UK
Geographic coordinates: 65 00 N, 18 00 W
Area:
total: 103,000 sq km
land: 100,250 sq km
water: 2,750 sq km
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 4,988 km
Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; damp, cool summers
Terrain: mostly plateau interspersed with mountain peaks, icefields; coast deeply indented by bays and fiords
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Hvannadalshnukur 2,119 m
Natural resources: fish, hydropower, geothermal power, diatomite
Land use:
arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
permanent pastures: 23%
forests and woodland: 1%
other: 76% (1993 est.)
Natural hazards: earthquakes and volcanic activity
Environment - current issues: water pollution from fertilizer runoff; inadequate wastewater treatment
Environment - international agreements:
party to:  Air Pollution, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified:  Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note: strategic location between Greenland and Europe; westernmost European country; more land covered by glaciers than in all of continental Europe

People of Iceland

Most Icelanders are descendants of Norwegian settlers and Celts from the British Isles, and the population is remarkably homogeneous. According to Icelandic Government statistics, 93% of the nation's inhabitants live in urban areas (localities with populations greater then 200) and about 60% live in Reykjavik metropolitan area. Of the Nordic languages, the Icelandic language is closest to the Old Norse language and has remained relatively unchanged since the 12th century.

About 91% of the population belongs to the state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, or other Lutheran Churches. However, Iceland has complete religious liberty, and about 20 other religious congregations are present.

Most Icelandic surnames are based on patronymy, or the adoption of the father's first given name. For example, Magnus and Anna, children of a man named Petur, would hold the surname Petursson and Petursdottir, respectively. Magnus' children, in turn, would inherit the surname Magnusson, while Anna's children would claim their father's first given name as their surname. Women normally maintain their original surnames after marriage. This system of surnames is required by law, except for the descendants of those who had acquired family names before 1913. Most Icelanders, while reserved by nature, rarely call each other by their surnames, and even phone directories are based on first names. Because of its small size and relative homogeneity, Iceland holds all the characteristics of a very close-knit society.

Population: 296,737 (July 2005 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years:  23.18% 
15-64 years:  65.01% 
65 years and over:  11.81% 
Population growth rate: 0.91% 
Birth rate: 14.62 births/1,000 population 
Death rate: 6.89 deaths/1,000 population 
Net migration rate: -2.28 migrant(s)/1,000 population 
Infant mortality rate: 3.56 deaths/1,000 live births 
Life expectancy at birth:
total population:  79.52 years
male:  77.31 years
female:  81.92 years
Total fertility rate: 2.01 children born/woman 
Nationality:
noun: Icelander(s)
adjective: Icelandic
Ethnic groups: homogeneous mixture of descendants of Norwegians and Celts
Religions: Evangelical Lutheran 91%, other Protestant and Roman Catholic, none (1997)
Languages: Icelandic
Literacy:
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99.9% (1997 est.)

SOURCES: The World Factbook, U.S. Department of State

Mother Earth Travel > Country Index > Iceland > Map Economy History