Iceland is a large island in the North Atlantic ocean. The island is located east of Greenland and immediately south of the Arctic Circle, atop the divergent boundary of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the North Atlantic Ocean. It lies about 4,200 km (2,610 mi) from New York City and 860 km (534 mi) from Scotland.
Iceland has extensive volcanic and geothermal activity. The rift associated with the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which marks the division between the European and North American tectonic plates, runs across Iceland from the southwest to the northeast. This geographic feature is prominent at the Þingvellir National Park, where the promontory creates an extraordinary natural amphitheatre. The site was the home of Iceland's parliament, the Alþing, which was first convened in 930.
About half of Iceland's land area, which is of recent volcanic origin, consists of a mountainous lava desert (highest elevation 2,119 m (6,952 ft) above sea level) and other wasteland. Eleven percent is covered by three large glaciers:
and several smaller ones:
Twenty percent of the land is used for grazing, and only 1% is cultivated. An ambitious reforestation program is under way. Fossilized tree pollen and descriptions by the early settlers indicate that prior to human settlement in the 8th-10th century, trees covered about 30-40% of the island. Today, however, there are only small patches of the original birch forests left, the most prominent are Hallormsstaðaskógur and Vaglaskógur.
The inhabited areas are on the coast, particularly in the southwest; the central highlands are totally uninhabited.
Because of the Gulf Stream's moderating influence, the climate is characterized by damp, cool summers and relatively mild but windy winters. In Reykjavík, the average temperature is 11 °C (51.8 °F) in July and 0 °C (32 °F) in January (Koppen: Cfc).
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