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May 2011

Iceland 1981

Iceland 1981

Europe

Europe

Iceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, covers an area of 103,000 sq. km. (39,600 sq. mi.); about the size of the state of Virginia or slightly larger than Ireland. Its climate is temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; with damp, cool summers. The terrain of Iceland consists of mostly plateau interspersed with mountain peaks, icefields; coast deeply indented by bays and fjords.

The general population of Iceland was estimated at 311,058 (July 2011). Reykjavik, the capital, has an estimated population of 118,898. Other large cities include: Kopavogur, Hafnarfjordur, Akureyri, Reykjanesbaer, and Gardabaer.

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. The second half of the 20th century saw substantial economic growth driven primarily by the fishing industry. The economy diversified greatly after the country joined the European Economic Area in 1994, but Iceland was especially hard hit by the global financial crisis in the years following 2008.

The natural resources of Iceland include: fish, hydropower, geothermal power, and diatomite; natural hazards include: earthquakes and volcanic activity. From April to May 2010, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted. In the short term, tourism and transportation were disrupted. In the longer term, the ash and flooding hurt some of Iceland’s most productive agricultural lands, including the area that produces about 12% of Iceland’s dairy products, 15% of its cattle, and 17% of its horses. To locate volcanoes by region, throughout the world, visit the Smithsonian's Global Volcanism Program site. In May 2011, the Grimsvotn volcano erupted.

CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes; Smithsonian: Museum of Natural History, 5/2011; 3/2011; 5/2011

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