GEOLOGY & FORMATION
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Iceland sits on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a 18.000km long submarine mountain range, which divides the Eurasian from the North-American tectonic plate. Iceland is the youngest country in Europe and was “only” formed by submarine eruptions along the rift 17 - 20 million years ago. The earth’s crust here is about two thirds thinner than elsewhere, making it easy for magma to rise from far below and emerge through the ridge pushing the plates apart. The Almannagjá fault in the Þingvellir National Park drifts between 1 and 18mm apart each year due to the activity. The ongoing and at times forceful volcanic activity on Iceland is directly related to the thin crust and the tectonic drift.
While some volcanoes are extinct, others are dormant or in fact quite active. Most of the volcanic activity is considered to be directly related to the drift and the craters around it. The Laki craters around the Laki mountains are a good example of ongoing activity and have been the cause of the biggest lava stream recorded in human history in the 18. Century.
Most of the active volcanoes lie under a thick layer of glacial ice. When Eyjafjalljökull erupted in 2010, hot
lava melted some of the ice under the glacier’s surface, causing flooding at the glacier’s tongue and the infamous ash cloud. One of Iceland’s most active volcanoes, Grímsvötn, lies under the Vatnajökull glacier. On the other hand, submarine eruptions cause the formation of new land, like the formation of the small Surtsey island of the Southern shores in 1963.
GEYSIRS, HOT SPRINGS & FUMAROLES
The biggest geyser on Iceland is “Geysir”, giving its name to all other water spitting geysers around the world. Over the peak of its activity, the geyser spit water more than 100m high up into the air. Due to earthquakes, the pressure in the submarine system has changed and the geyser is much calmer today. You can get the best impressions of an active geyser at the neighbouring Strokkur, which blows up hot steam every couple of minutes.
Hot steam is also released in so-called fumaroles, vents where volcanic gas escape to the surface. Best examples can be found in the Myvatn in Northern Iceland or on the Reykjanes peninsula in the Southwest, where the steam mixes with mud and clay. In contrast to the interrupted eruption of geysers, the steam release from fumaroles is constant.
Natural, hot thermal springs can be found all over the island and you will have opportunities to take a dip in the soothing waters nearly everywhere on Iceland. Best known bathing spots are the Blue Lagoon or Myvatn Lake, but also the Viti craters or the Landmannalaugar springs, areas in which volcanic activity is omnipresent.
SNOW & ICE
Glaciers and ice caps cover more than 15% of the land. Vatnajökull in Southern Iceland is the third biggest ice cap in the world and covers almost 13% of the country. Glacial tongues slowly accumulate rock and sediment in moraines or vast pebble fields while volcanic eruptions quickly transport bigger chunks of rocks down the slopes.
Melting waters from the glacier drain in streams and often form lakes or lagoons, like the beautiful
Jökursarlón lagoon on the foot of the Breiðamerkurjökull, carrying floating blue icebergs that broke off the glacier.
Glacial valleys and fjords have formed over millenniums and significantly contribute to the surreal beauty of the Icelandic landscape. Over centuries, glaciers shrank and grew again in sizes, though latest developments and research suggests that the glaciers are melting with incomparable speed and some could completely disappear in a couple of decades.
Iceland’s vegetation is surprisingly varied, especially if you look close to the ground as plants and trees in this area tend to be rather short, but wide. There are 440 flowers in Iceland, most of them non-native, but you can encounter wild flowers in all their glorious bloom over the summer. Grassland and bogs are typical for coastal areas while the higher terrain is covered with tundra. Further, you can find more than 1500 different types of fungus in Iceland.
The only native land mammal in Iceland is the polar fox. You can learn more about the shy animal at the polar fox center in Sudavik or might encounter the small mammals on Hornstrandir in the Westfjords. Reindeers have been brought to Iceland from Norway during the 18. century and can be spotted in the mountains of Eastern Iceland. Apart from that, you will mainly encounter sheep, cows and horses.
You will find more variety in the sea, especially among
whales. Every summer, between nine and eleven different whale species can be spotted in the waters around Husavik, one of the best suited places to embark on a whale watching tour. Many species can be spotted in the waters all around Iceland. Seals are also a common sight all around Iceland.
Iceland is a popular place for birds and between May and August, you will encounter a huge amount of sea birds nesting in the sea cliffs, including gannets, kittiwakes, fulmars or puffins.
Geology & Nature