Out in the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean lies an island nation that is home to about 320,000 people spread over an area of about 40,000 square miles. What is it? Iceland, of course!

Iceland is a large island. In fact, it’s the world’s 18th largest island. Most of the population, however, lives in the southwestern part of the country, in or around the capital city of Reykjavik. Most other areas of the country are sparsely populated.

By its very name, you’d expect Iceland to be mostly ice. Looking at Iceland on a map, you’ll notice it sits just outside the Arctic Circle. Despite this location and its name, Iceland actually has a temperate climate, because it is warmed by the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream also helps keep Iceland’s coastal ports ice-free through the winter.

There is plenty of ice on Iceland, though. The interior of the country consists of a large plateau that features fields of sand, mountains and glaciers. Over 60% of Iceland is tundra. About 14% of Iceland is lakes and glaciers. Only about 23% of the country has plants or vegetation of any kind.

Many glacial rivers flow to the ocean through the lowlands near the coast. Iceland’s long coastline also features many fjords. In addition to lakes and glaciers, Iceland also has active volcanoes and geysers.

Iceland was settled in the late 800s and early 900s by Norsemen from the Scandinavian country of Norway. Other settlers also came from Ireland and Scotland, giving Iceland Celtic roots in addition to its Norse roots.

From the 13th century up until 1918, Iceland was part of the Norwegian and later Danish monarchies. For most of that time, the small Icelandic population relied upon fishing and farming to make a living. For hundreds of years, Iceland was one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

After World War II, international aid and industrialization of the fishing industry turned Iceland into one of the wealthiest countries in the world. In 1994, Iceland became part of the European Economic Area, which allowed its economy to diversify and grow even more.

Iceland boasts one of the youngest islands in the world. Surtsey rose out of the ocean during a series of volcanic eruptions between 1963 and 1968. Today, only scientists who study the growth of new life can visit the volcanic island of Surtsey.

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