Country & Nature
Climate | Glaciers | Reykjavik - the Capital


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Iceland is Europe's westernmost country, the second largest island in the North-Atlantic ocean, a little over 3 hours flight from London, Paris, Amsterdam or Copenhagen. The first settlers came to Iceland from Norway and Ireland in the 9th century. Althingi, the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly, was established in the year 930 A. D. Iceland has a strong economy, low unemployment and low inflation. Per capita income is among the highest in the world.
In environmental terms, Iceland is unique. It is a large country (103,000 km², about the same surface area as Ireland or the State of Virginia), but is sparsely populated, with only 3 persons per km² living mostly along the coast. The interior of the country contains stunning contrasts. It is largely an arctic desert, punctuated with mountains, glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls. Most of the vegetation and agricultural areas are in the lowlands close to the coastline.


Iceland has a relatively mild coastal climate. The average summer temperature in Reykjavik, the capital, is 10. 6°C/51°F in July, with average highs of 24. 3°C/76°F. The average winter temperature in Reykjavik is similar to New York City's, about 0°C/32°F in January (average highs are 9. 9°C/50°C). Usually the weather is very changeable.

The mild climate stems from the Gulf Stream and attendant warm ocean currents from the Gulf of Mexico. The weather is also affected by the East Greenland polar current curving south-eastwards round the north and east coasts. For two to three months in summer there is continuous daylight in Iceland, and early spring and late autumn enjoy long twilight. However, the days are very short in mid-winter.


Among the most distinctive features of Iceland are its glaciers, which cover over 11,922 km² (4,600 sq. mil. ) or 11. 5% of the total area of the country. During the past few decades, however, they have markedly thinned and retreated owing to a milder climate, and some of the smaller ones have all but vanished. By far the largest of the glacier caps is the Vatnajökull glacier in Southeast Iceland with an area of 8,400 km² (3,240 sq. mil. ), equal in size to all the glaciers on the European mainland put together. It reaches a thickness of 1 km (3,000 feet). One of its southern outlets, Breidamerkurjökull, descends to sea level.


Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is the country's largest city and the world's most northerly capital. The capital area includes seven municipalities in addition to Reykjavik itself, with a total population of about 170,000, of which over 108,000 live in Reykjavik. Reykjavik means "Smoky Bay", so named by the first settler in the 9th century because of steam rising from geothermal hot springs. This geothermal energy is utilized to provide economical, non-polluting heating to the city's buildings. Hence Reykjavik is one of the cleanest cities in the Western world. One of the country's best salmon rivers runs right through the city. Reykjavik offers historical sites, natural beauty, museums and galleries, public parks, excellent shopping, a wide range of leisure activities, hotels, restaurants and a remarkably lively artistic scene. There are many theatres and galleries and one can go to symphony concerts, the ballet or opera.

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