Iceland, an island in the North Atlantic immediately south of the Polar Circle, which just touches its northernmost point. It lies between 63° 23' and 66° 33' N. lat., and between 13° 22' and 24° 15' W. long. The distance from Iceland to Greenland is about 250 miles, to Norway 600, to the Faroe Islands 250, and to Scotland 500. Its area is 40,300 sq. in. (more than a third larger than Scotland); its length from east to west 300 miles, and its breadth from north to south 200. The south coast from east to west is entirely wanting in bays and fjords. Other parts of the coast, especially the north-west and east coasts, are very much indented by fjords and bays, so that the coast-line, measured from point to point, is only 900 miles, but following the indentations would be over 2000.
Taken as a whole, Iceland may be said to be a tableland about 2000 feet high. In some parts it slopes pretty evenly down to the coast - e.g. on the south side between Eyafjallajokull and Reykjanes. Here is the largest extent of lowland, about 1400 sq. m. The fjords in the northwest, north, and east are mostly narrow cuttings, and hills rise to about 2000 feet abruptly from the water, ending in steep precipices, which afford breeding-places to myriads of sea-fowl. In the north, and in some parts of the east, there are several broad valleys running from the fjords into the interior. Iceland is throughout volcanic. The interior and highest part of the island consists of volcanic tufa; the hills of the east and west are mainly basaltic. The whole of the interior is occupied by barren sands, lava tracts, and icefields. The largest of these lava tracts is Odathahraun, about 1200 sq. m. The largest icefield is that of Vatnajokull, about 3000 sq. m., and all the icefields together cover 5360 sq. m. At the south-east corner of Vatnajokull is the highest mountain in Iceland, called Oraefajokull (6550 feet); its upper part is covered with everlasting snow or ice, as more or less are all mountains above 4000 feet, the snow-line being usually at from 3000 to 4000 feet. There are twenty volcanoes which have been active since the island was inhabited; the eruptions of Hecla (q.v.) have been most frequent. Laki, near Skapta, in 1783 threw out a lava stream 45 miles long and nearly 15 broad - an outpour unexampled anywhere else. The south-west peninsula, Reykjanes, has frequently been disturbed by volcanic outbursts; and islands in the sea round it have been thrown up or submerged alternately by submarine volcanic action. As a result of this volcanic activity, 2400 sq. m. of Iceland are covered with lava. Many of the ice-hills have been active volcanoes during the last 600 years, such as Oraefajokull and Eyafjallajokull. These ice-volcanoes never throw out any lava, but mud and ashes.
The numerous hot springs scattered about the island are in many parts made use of by the inhabitants for cooking and washing purposes; some are just warm enough for bathing, others convert their water into steam at a degree far above the boiling-point. The most famous is the Great Geyser, near Hecla. Earthquakes sometimes do much damage. Many rivers, all too rapid to be navigable, and the longest over 100 miles, run from the interior either north or south. Lakes also are numerous, and pretty waterfalls. The climate of the south of Iceland is somewhat like that of the north of Scotland - i.e. rather wet and changeable, but colder. In the north the climate is drier and colder still. The winter is mild considering the latitude, but spring and summer are frequently cold. The greatest peculiarity of the climate is the varying mean temperature of the same month, the difference sometimes being 27°. This is owing to the arrival or non-arrival of the Greenland ice, which not un-frequently blocks up the north and east coasts from April to September. Sulphur, lignite, and brown coal are found, as well as iron and lime. The only cereal is melur, a kind of wild oats. Turnips, carrots, cabbages, and potatoes thrive well, and are cultivated to some extent. The grasses, both wild and cultivated, however, are the principal product. Of trees there is the birch, seldom exceeding 12 feet in height, and some willows and juniper bushes; amongst the heather are found crowberries and whortleberries. Iceland moss, a kind of lichen, is plentiful, and is available for food. There are both white and blue foxes; and of reindeer, introduced in 1770, there are still a few herds running wild on the hills in the interior. Large numbers of sheep are now exported alive to Scotland and England. The cows are small, but yield abundant milk. Thousands of ponies are brought to Scotland every year. The genuine Iceland dog resembles the Eskimo dog and the Scotch collie. There are about 22,000 cattle, 1,000,000 sheep, and 40,000 ponies. Of birds there are immense numbers, especially of water-fowl; the most important the eider-duck. The ptarmigan is the only game-bird. The most remarkable bird of prey is the Icelandic falcon. The whooper or wild swan breeds largely. The neighbouring sea is very rich in fish, especially cod and herring; the fisheries, very important to the islanders, also attract French and Norwegians. Finbacked whales and seals are also numerous. Many of the salmon and trout rivers are rented by Englishmen.
Iceland was discovered about 800 by Irishmen or Scots, but they did not make any permanent settlement. In 874 it was rediscovered and colonised by Norwegians, who preferred to leave their native land rather than submit to the rule of Harold Haarfager. In about sixty years the whole island was inhabited, and an aristocratic republic was formed. In 1262-64 the Icelanders acknowledged the sovereignty of the king of Norway; in 1388, when Norway was united with Denmark, Iceland shared the same fate; but when Denmark had to give up Norway in 1814, Iceland remained with Denmark. In 1*874 a new constitution was granted, and in 1893 a form of home rule. Christianity was introduced in 1000, and the Reformation about the middle of the 16th century. Church matters are now superintended by one Lutheran bishop at Reykjavik. The most notable events in the recent history of Iceland are calamities caused by volcanic outbursts, severe seasons, epidemics, and, in some cases, mis-government. Pop. (1801) 46,240; (1880) 72,442; (1901) 78,470. Since 1870 there has been considerable emigration to America. In the 12th and 13th centuries the Icelanders produced more vernacular literature than any other nation in Europe; the present-day elementary education is so general that a child of ten unable to read is.
quite an exception. The Icelandic still spoken is practically the old Norse tongue once spoken in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Reykjavik (pop. 6000), on the south-west coast, is the capital, lsafjord in the north-west and Akureyri in the north have each about 500 inhabitants. For the rest the population is scattered all round the island on isolated farms. The principal means of support of the Icelanders are the rearing of livestock and fishing. The only native industry consists in working the wool of the sheep into various articles of clothing; this is chiefly done by the women in winter. The Icelanders make a sort of tweed, the principal clothing material of the inhabitants. See works by C. S. Forbes (1860), Baring-Gould (1864), Sir R. Burton (1875), and W. L. Watts (1877).