Iceland is a country with true grit. The landscapes are awe-inspiring, but the true beauty lies in the people and their culture. There’s just something about being at the freezing edge of civilization that resonates with us. The vast majority of Iceland’s landscape consists of glaciers, mountains, geysers, and waterfalls. It’s an utterly unique environment that you can’t find anywhere else.
How was the Icelandic landscape formed?
The Icelandic landscape is located between the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Eurasian continental plate. This means that Iceland is being pulled apart by the two tectonic plates. In geological terms, mountains and valleys are faults in the Earth’s crust caused by two plates pulling apart. This is what happened to create Iceland’s landscape.
Icelandic landscapes are outstanding in terms of their variety and structure.
Iceland’s landforms came alive during the mid and late Holocene (the last 11,700 years), the most recent geological epoch on our planet. The last glacial period ended about 9,000 years ago and didn’t completely melt until about 5,000 years ago, when Earth was cooling rapidly, snow-covered most of Iceland from high in the mountains to at least 1,300 feet below sea level at the coastline.
- Iceland’s Volcanic Landscapes:
Iceland has a unique volcanic landscape, where the unique landforms have resulted from a complex network of activity and movement. The Earth is still continually generating new lava fields at roughly 10 square miles per year in the southwest part of Iceland.
- Glacier Landscapes:
Iceland’s landscape is shaped by ice sheets, the last of which are among Iceland’s most famous and iconic features. These glaciers are thousands of years old and still have a big influence on the landscape. Glaciers have carved out enormous valleys and intricate ridges into mountains, leaving many Icelandic mountains completely devoid of vegetation.
- River and Valleys Landscapes:
The glaciers have also shaped the valleys. The shape of the drainage basin in Iceland determines what shape the valley takes. If a glacier is above a valley, it will form a river, flat area, or bridge, whereas, below the valley, it will create a waterfall or crevasse.
- Mountain and Cliff Landscapes:
Mountain ranges are formed by the overlapping of two or more glaciers. The glaciers push rocks up from underneath, creating the high ground. The stone, in turn, is pushed back down by the ice as it melts, leaving a large pile of rocks at the top of a mountain.
Seasonal Variations in Icelandic Landscapes
Icelandic landscapes’ most significant seasonal variations are the sea ice and summer ice—high amounts of sea-ice cover the water around Iceland, except in a few places. During the winter months, large quantities of the sea-ice body in most of Iceland’s waters can dramatically affect erosion processes and mountain formation.
During part of the year, an enormous amount of permafrost can be found everywhere in Iceland. This layer is at least two thousand years old and contains large amounts of methane gas frozen underneath it. Permafrost tends to be found in low-lying areas where there is precipitation for hundreds or even thousands of years (at high altitudes).