What Continent Does Iceland Belong To?

One of the most fascinating facts about Iceland’s geography is its location. Most of it lies within Europe’s territory, but a small portion crosses the North American Tectonic Plates.

So, which continent does it belong to?

Iceland belongs to Europe, even though it isn’t a member of the European Union (EU).

It has an agreement with the EU in which Iceland adopts most of the economic rules of the EU in return for a voice in EU matters.

The rest of this article will discuss Iceland’s unique geography, its relationship with Europe and America, and other fun facts about Iceland.

Also, see How Do You Move to Iceland? to learn more.

Does Iceland Really Sit on Two Continents?

Iceland is located in the far Northwest corner of Europe, between the European mainland and Greenland.

What makes its location interesting is how it lies across tectonic plates. Iceland sits across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the border between the Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates. [1]

Because of the way it straddles both tectonic plates, it technically sits on two continents.

In the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland, there’s a place where you can see this unique geographic phenomenon yourself. It’s known as the Bridge Between Continents.

What Is the Bridge Between Continents?

The Bridge Between Continents is a footbridge over a gap between the Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates.

The bridge is around 50 ft long (15 meters). It’s a popular tourist attraction; many go there to see the gap between the plates.

This area is unique because it’s one of the only places on Earth where you can clearly see evidence of shifting tectonic plates.

What Exactly Are Tectonic Plates?

Tectonic plates are parts of the Earth’s upper mantle and crust – referred to as the lithosphere.

The theory is that the Earth’s lithosphere is made of pieces that fit together almost like puzzle pieces. [2] Each piece is known as a tectonic plate.

These tectonic plates constantly shift, changing the Earth’s landscape over millions of years. They only move a few centimeters a year, so the changes aren’t visible to the naked eye.

There are seven tectonic plates on the Earth. These are:

  • The Eurasian Tectonic Plate
  • The North American Tectonic Plate
  • The South American Tectonic Plate
  • The African Tectonic Plate
  • The Indo-Australian Tectonic Plate
  • The Pacific Tectonic Plate
  • The Antarctic Tectonic Plate

Iceland sits on part of the border between the Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates.

The borders between plates (also known as fault lines) are prime spots for volcanic activity, earthquakes, and the creation of mountains and valleys.

Is Iceland Full of Volcanoes?

Iceland is the second largest island in Europe. However, it’s also one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, and for good reason.

A large part of Iceland is uninhabitable because of its geographic makeup, with most of the island being high plateaux.

Iceland lies across the border of two shifting tectonic plates.

These borders are the prime locations all over the world for volcanic activity.

The countries with the most volcanic activity (like the US, Japan, Indonesia, etc.) lie on or near the borders of tectonic plates.

Since Iceland also straddles two tectonic plates, it has a lot of active volcanoes.

In recent history, there has been a volcanic eruption in Iceland approximately every five years. [3]

The entire island is volcanic, made of basalt rock during ancient eruptions millions of years ago.

How Many Volcanoes Are There in Iceland?

Iceland’s location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge makes it a prime spot for volcanoes.

The tectonic plates shift a few centimeters every year, leading to lava bursts that erupt onto the surface.

Iceland has 30 active volcanic systems, each containing multiple individual volcanoes.

In total, there are approximately 130 active and inactive volcanoes in Iceland. The most active volcanic system is the Grímsvötn. [4]

Also, see What Is There To Do in Iceland? to learn more.

Is Iceland Part of NATO?

Iceland has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since it was founded in 1949.

NATO conducts air surveillance missions in Iceland a few times a year.

At the same time, Iceland contributes to NATO financially and with civilian personnel.

Iceland’s membership in NATO is an important part of its national security and foreign policy. They aim to encourage NATO’s roles of disarmament and arms control. [5]

Another big reason for Iceland’s membership in NATO is its lack of military. Iceland doesn’t have a military at all, so they rely on NATO for land-based security.

Other Facts About Iceland’s Geography

Here are some more fun facts about Iceland’s geography.

The Word “Geyser” Comes From Iceland

Because of Iceland’s location across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, it has a lot of volcanic activity on the surface and underground. One of the side effects of this underground volcanic activity is the geysers.

Geysers are springs with volcanic activity beneath them, resulting in sudden bursts of hot water accompanied by steam.

Some geysers can shoot water up several hundreds of feet.

The word ‘geyser’ comes from the famous Icelandic Geysir, the name of one of the most famous geysers in Europe. [6] It was the first geyser described in print.

Iceland has around 16 geysers in total.

Iceland Is Home to Europe’s Second Largest Glacier

Vatnajökull is Iceland’s largest glacier, covering approximately 8% of the entire country.

It is also one of the largest glaciers in Europe, second only to Novaya Zemlya in Russia.

Glaciers cover almost 11% of Iceland’s total land mass. 8% is covered by just Vatnajökull, while the remaining glaciers account for 3% combined.

Iceland Has Around One-Third of the Earth’s Total Lava Flow

As mentioned earlier in this article, Iceland is known for its volcanoes and geysers. Its unique location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge also hints at how it formed.

The predominant theory is that Iceland formed in stages due to volcanic eruptions.

Each eruption contributed to the basalt rock formations that make up Iceland. In fact, a large percentage of Iceland is covered by old lava.

The current estimate is that Iceland accounts for approximately one-third of the global lava flow. Most of it is old lava that has cooled down and now covers large parts of the land.

Also, see What Is Iceland Known For? to learn more.

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