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Iceland's geography & climate

Iceland's Geography & Climate

Iceland's Geography

Iceland is the second largest island in Europe, located between latitudes 63°24´N and 66°33´N, close to the Arctic Circle. Iceland has a total area of 103,000 square km (39,756 square miles). From north to south the greatest distance is about 300 km (185 miles), from west to east about 500 km (305 miles). 

The coastline is about 6,000 km (3,700 miles) and the shortest distances to other countries are 286 km (180 miles) to Greenland, 795 km (495 miles) to Scotland and 950 km (590 miles) to Norway. Its locations is about midway between New York and Moscow. 

The total amount of coastline is 4,970 km (3,088 miles) and there are numerous islands offshore, some of them inhabited. The largest are the volcanic Westman Islands (Vestmannæyar) in the south, Hrísey in the north and Grímsey on the Arctic Circle. 

Iceland is a very young country in geological terms, and the process of its formation is still ongoing. The island has extensive volcanic and geothermal activity owing to its location on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the division between the European and North American tectonic plates. The rift runs across Iceland from the southwest to the northeast and is very visible in some areas, like Þingvellir National Park.

The  interior highlands (about half of the country's land area) consist entirely of mountains and high plateaus, devoid of human habitation. Eleven percent of Iceland is covered by glaciers, the most ice-capped of all European countries. The highest point in Iceland is Hvannadalshnúkur in the Öræfajökull glacier in Southeast Iceland, reaching a height of 2,110 m (6,950 feet).

Prior to human settlement in the 9th century, trees covered up to 40 percent of the island. Today, however, there are only small areas of the original birch forests left. 

Iceland's Climate
Iceland cannot be considered a "warm" place by normal standards, but thanks to the Gulf Stream, temperatures are usually moderate all year round. Average temperatures in July are about 12 degrees C in Reykjavik and it is usually a bit warmer in the north and east of Iceland. 

It doesn't snow as much in Iceland as you may think either, especially in Reykjavik where there is usually very little snow to be seen, even in the winter. However in the north and east of Iceland and in the Westfjords, there is more snow in the winter and nice skiing areas to take advantage of it. 

The biggest factor in Icelandic weather is its unpredictability, you never know what is going to happen next. A beautiful day can suddenly turn windy and rainy (and vice versa), and you may every weather imaginable over the course of a few days in Iceland, especially in late autumn and early spring. So always remember to dress in layers. The Icelanders have a saying: "there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing."