Fall 2016

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The Republic of Iceland is a Nordic island country in the North Atlantic Ocean. It has a population of about 332,000 and an area of 40,000 sq mi, making it the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Iceland is volcanically and geologically active. The interior consists of a plateau characterized by sand and lava fields, mountains and glaciers, while many glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream and has a temperate climate, despite a high latitude just outside the Arctic Circle. Its high latitude and marine influence still keeps summers chilly, with most of the archipelago having a tundra climate.

Iceland was settled in 874 by the Vikings. In the following centuries, Norwegians, and to a lesser extent other Scandinavians, immigrated Iceland, bringing with them thralls of Gaelic origin. Over the years, Iceland was independent and then came under Norwegian rule in the 13th century. In 1814, it came under the rule of Denmark and became an independent republic in 1944. Until the 20th century, Iceland relied largely on subsistence fishing and agriculture, and was among the poorest in Europe. Industrialization of the fisheries and Marshall Plan aid following World War II brought prosperity, and Iceland became one of the wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. In 1994, it became a part of the European Economic Area, which further diversified the economy into sectors such as finance, biotechnology, and manufacturing.

Iceland has a market economy and runs almost completely on renewable energy. Affected by the ongoing worldwide financial crisis, the nation's entire banking system systemically failed in October 2008.  The economy has made a significant recovery, in large part due to a surge in tourism.

A geologically young land, Iceland is located on both the Iceland hotspot and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which runs right through it. This location means that the island is highly geologically active with many volcanoes. Iceland has many geysers, including Geysir, from which the English word is derived.

With the widespread availability of geothermal power, and the harnessing of many rivers and waterfalls for hydroelectricity, most residents have access to inexpensive hot water, heating and electricity. Iceland has hundreds of volcanoes with approx. 30 volcanic systems active.  The highest elevation for Iceland is 6,923 ft.