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Iceland, Land and Resources

Heimaey Island, Surtsey Island, Hvannadalshnukur, Vatnajokull, Icelandic population

In shape Iceland is generally elliptic, and the coastline, with a total length of 4,990 km (3,100 mi), is deeply indented, especially in the west and north. Important embayments on the West Coast are Faxafloi (bay) and Brei?afjor?ur (fjord). Projecting northwest between the latter and Hunafloi (bay), one of the major indentations on the northern coast, is an irregularly formed peninsula fringed by precipitous cliffs. The peninsular coastline makes up about 30 percent of the total for the island. Volcanic in origin, Iceland consists predominantly of uninhabitable lava tablelands with mountainous outcroppings; the lowlands, situated mainly along the southwestern coast, occupy about 25 percent of the total area. The bulk of the Icelandic population lives along the coast, particularly in the southwest.

Elevations in the uplands average between about 610 and 915 m (about 2,000 and 3,000 ft). Hvannadalshnukur (2,119 m/6,952 ft), in the southeast, is the highest summit. Nearly 15 percent of the surface of the island is covered by snowfields and glaciers. Vatnajokull, a glacier in the southeast, has an area of 8,456 sq km (3,265 sq mi). The island has more than 120 glaciers and numerous small lakes and swift-flowing rivers.

Iceland is remarkable for the number of its volcanoes, craters, and thermal springs and for the frequency of its earthquakes. More than 100 volcanoes, including at least 25 that have erupted in historic times, are situated on the island. Noteworthy among the volcanoes are Hekla (1,491 m/4,892 ft), which has erupted many times, including in 1766, 1947, and 1980, and nearby Laki, with about 100 separate craters. Vast lava fields have been created by volcanoes, and many eruptions have caused widespread devastation. In 1783, when the only known eruption of Laki occurred, molten lava, volcanic ashes and gases, and torrential floods resulting from melting ice and snow led to the deaths of more than 9,000 people, ruined large tracts of arable land, and destroyed about 80 percent of the livestock on the island. In 1963 an ocean-floor volcano erupted off the southwestern coast of Iceland, creating Surtsey Island. In 1973 a volcano on Heimaey Island became active, forcing the evacuation of the islandís main town, Vestmannaeyjar.

Thermal springs are common in Iceland. Particularly numerous in the volcanic areas, the springs occur as geysers, as boiling mud lakes, and in various other forms. Geysir, generally regarded as the most spectacular, erupts at irregular intervals (usually from 5 to 36 hr), ejecting a column of boiling water up to about 60 m (about 200 ft) in height. Most homes and industrial establishments in the Reykjavik area are heated by water piped from nearby hot springs.

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Article key phrases:

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