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Nordic FAQ - 5 of 7 - ICELAND
Section - 5.2 General information

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<By: Halldór Árnason et al.>



5.2.1 Geography, climate, vegetation

Iceland is the second largest island in Europe, after Great Britain. It's
the westernmost country in Europe, located far in the North Atlantic, atop
the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which is an area of active volcanism. The island was
indeed formed by numerous volcanos, many of which are still active,
sometimes creating new islands out of the sea.

Vegetation covers less than one-fifth of Icelands area and only about 1.1%
is cultivated. Trees, mostly birch, grow in some places, along with some
willows. The rest of the country is barren mountains, deserts (lava beds
cover some 11% of Iceland) and glaciers (12%). Vatnajökull (Lakes' Glacier)
in the southeast is the largest Ice field in Europe and Ódáđahraun (Lava of
ill deeds) north of Vatnajökull is the largest lava bed on earth. Rivers and
waterfalls are plenty, and provide hydroelectric power. Over 90% of homes
are heated by hot springs, which also keeps greenhouses warm, where the
famous Icelandic bananas are grown.



5.2.2 Economy

Fishing produces Iceland's main exports, although it employs only ca. 12% of
the work force. The country has no railroads, but a network of highways and
secondary roads provides access to all inhabited parts of Iceland. Air
transportation also plays an important role, both locally and
internationally, through the main airports at Reykjavík and at Keflavík,
where also a U.S naval base is located (Iceland has no military force of its
own).



5.2.3 Government

Iceland is a constitutional republic governed by a general assembly, the
Althing, which is sometimes called the oldest democratic institution in
existense. The president is elected every four years by universal suffrage
for all persons over 18 years of age. Icelanders seem to like their
presidents, because a president running for reelection has in nine times out
of ten gone unopposed, and the tenth time won by a landslide. Real executive
power is held by the prime minister and the cabinet. Fore more information,
see the URL <http://www.althingi.is/~wwwadm/upplens.html>.



5.2.4 Population and language

Iceland's population is a homogeneous mixture of Scandinavian and Celtic
origin. Unlike the other Nordic countries there are no dialects to speak of.
The language spoken in Iceland has changed very little since the island was
settled, some 11 centuries ago. Icelandic and Faroese are the only
Scandinavian languages to have kept the complicated inflection system of the
Old Norse spoken during the viking age.



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