Geographic and Governmental Profile of Iceland

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. Denmark granted limited home rule in 1874 and complete independence 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. Literacy, longevity, and social cohesion are first rate by world standards.
Northern Europe, island between the Greenland Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, northwest of the United Kingdom
Geographic coordinates
65 00 N, 18 00 W
Continent / Subcontinent
103,000 sq km
100,250 sq km
2,750 sq km
Area - comparative
slightly smaller than Kentucky
Land boundaries
0 km
4,970 km
Maritime claims
territorial sea:
12 nm
exclusive economic zone:
200 nm
continental shelf:
200 nm or to the edge of the continental margin
temperate; moderated by North Atlantic Current; mild, windy winters; damp, cool summers
mostly plateau interspersed with mountain peaks, icefields; coast deeply indented by bays and fiords
Elevation extremes
lowest point:
Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point:
Hvannadalshnukur 2,110 m (at Vatnajokull glacier)
Natural resources
fish, hydropower, geothermal power, diatomite
Land use
arable land:
permanent crops:
99.93% (2005)
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Irrigated land
Total renewable water resources
170 cu km (2005)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)
0.17 cu km/yr (34%/66%/0%)
per capita:
567 cu m/yr (2003)
Natural hazards
earthquakes and volcanic activity
Iceland, situated on top of a hotspot, experiences severe volcanic activity; Eyjafjallajokull (elev. 1,666 m) erupted in 2010, sending ash high into the atmosphere and seriously disrupting European air traffic; scientists continue to monitor nearby Katla (elev. 1,512 m), which has a high probability of eruption in the very near future, potentially disrupting air traffic; Grimsvoetn and Hekla are Iceland's most active volcanoes; other historically active volcanoes include Askja, Bardarbunga, Brennisteinsfjoll, Esjufjoll, Hengill, Krafla, Krisuvik, Kverkfjoll, Oraefajokull, Reykjanes, Torfajokull, and Vestmannaeyjar
Environment - current issues
water pollution from fertilizer runoff; inadequate wastewater treatment
Environment - international agreements
party to:
Air Pollution, Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Transboundary Air Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified:
Environmental Modification, Marine Life Conservation
Geography - note
strategic location between Greenland and Europe; westernmost European country; Reykjavik is the northernmost national capital in the world; more land covered by glaciers than in all of continental Europe
Country name
conventional long form:
Republic of Iceland
conventional short form:
local long form:
Lydveldid Island
local short form:
Government type
constitutional republic
geographic coordinates:
64 09 N, 21 57 W
time difference:
UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
Administrative divisions
8 regions; Austurland, Hofudhborgarsvaedhi, Nordhurland Eystra, Nordhurland Vestra, Sudhurland, Sudhurnes, Vestfirdhir, Vesturland
1 December 1918 (became a sovereign state under the Danish Crown); 17 June 1944 (from Denmark; birthday of Jon SIGURDSSON leader of Iceland's 19th Century independence movement)
16 June 1944, effective 17 June 1944; amended many times
Legal system
civil law system influenced by the Danish model
International law organization participation
has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; accepts ICCt jurisdiction
18 years of age; universal
Executive branch
chief of state:
President Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON (since 1 August 1996)
head of government:
Prime Minister Johanna SIGURDARDOTTIR (since 1 February 2009)
Cabinet appointed by the prime minister
president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (no term limits); election last held on 28 June 2004 (next to be held in June 2012); note - the presidential election of 28 June 2008 was not held because Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON had no challengers; he was sworn in on 1 August 2008; following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or the leader of the majority coalition usually the prime minister
election results:
Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON elected president; percent of vote - Olafur Ragnar GRIMSSON 85.6%, Baldur AGUSTSSON 12.5%, Astthor MAGNUSSON 1.9%
Legislative branch
unicameral Althingi (parliament) (63 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
last held on 25 April 2009 (next to be held in 2013)
election results:
percent of vote by party - Social Democratic Alliance 29.8%, Independence Party 23.7%, Left-Green Movement 21.7%, Progressive Party 14.8%, Citizens' Movement 7.2%, other 2.8%; seats by party - Social Democratic Alliance 20, Independence Party 16, Left-Green Movement 14, Progressive Party 9, Citizens' Movement 4
the Citizens' Movement disintegrated in September 2009; three of its former MPs are now represented under the banner of The Movement and the fourth former MP is an MP for the Left-Green Movement); three MPs from the Left-Green Movement left the party during early 2011 (two are now independents and the third has joined the Progressive Party); one MP left the Progressive Party in August 2011 and is now an independent
Judicial branch
Supreme Court or Haestirettur (justices are appointed for life by the president); eight district courts (justices are appointed for life by the president)
Political parties and leaders
Independence Party (Sjalfstaedisflokkurinn) or IP [Bjarni BENEDIKTSSON]; Left-Green Movement (Vinstrihreyfingin-graent frambod) or LGM [Steingrimur SIGFUSSON]; Liberal Party (Frjalslyndiflokkurinn) [Sigurjon THORDARSON]; The Movement (Hreyfingin) [Birgitta JONSDOTTIR]; Progressive Party (Framsoknarflokkurinn) or PP [Sigmundur David GUNNLAUGSSON]; Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) or SDA [Johanna SIGURDARDOTTIR]
International organization participation
Arctic Council, Australia Group, BIS, CBSS, CE, EAPC, EBRD, EFTA, EU (candidate country), FAO, FATF, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, IMSO, Interpol, IOC, IPU, ISO, ITSO, ITU, ITUC, MIGA, NATO, NC, NEA, NIB, NSG, OAS (observer), OECD, OPCW, OSCE, PCA, Schengen Convention, UN, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UPU, WCO, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WTO
Diplomatic representation in the US
chief of mission:
Ambassador Gudmundur A. STEFANSSON
House of Sweden, 2900 K Street NW #509, Washington, DC 20007
[1] (202) 265-6653
[1] (202) 265-6656
consulate(s) general:
New York
Diplomatic representation from the US
chief of mission:
Ambassador Luis E. ARREAGA
Laufasvegur 21, 101 Reykjavik
mailing address:
US Department of State, 5640 Reykjavik Place, Washington, D.C. 20521-5640
[354] 562-9100
[354] 562-9118
Flag description
blue with a red cross outlined in white extending to the edges of the flag; the vertical part of the cross is shifted to the hoist side in the style of the Dannebrog (Danish flag); the colors represent three of the elements that make up the island: red is for the island's volcanic fires, white recalls the snow and ice fields of the island, and blue is for the surrounding ocean
National symbol(s)
National anthem
"Lofsongur" (Song of Praise)
adopted 1944; the anthem, also known as "O, Gud vors lands" (O, God of Our Land), was originally written and performed in 1874
Data source 1: All Above textual data, maps and flags were extracted from The World Factbook which was prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency and made available on the following link: The World Factbook. Lebanese Economy Forum is not sponsered or affiliated, in any way, by the US Central Intelligence Agency
Data source 2: Plots and Charts are constructed using the world bank public data catalog which can be viewed by visiting the following link: World Bank Data Catalog. Lebanese Economy Forum is not sponsored or affiliated, in any way, by the worldbank

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