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Geology of Iceland: How Was Iceland Formed?

Updated: Dec 16, 2020

Iceland is undoubtedly an exceptional and unique country. In terms of its natural wonders, the culture, and its history. It couldn't be otherwise when it comes to the geology of Iceland. Its structure, and the processes taking places below and above the surface, are incredible. Thanks to all of those processes, Iceland was transformed into the shape we can observe nowadays.

Thingvellir National Park shows the effect of the formation and geology of Iceland

What we can observe right now is the result of what happened a long time ago in the depths of the Earth. All those rugged rock formations from which cascades flow out, mesmerizing thousands of visitors, the endless lava fields, and the so beloved hot springs are the main effects those forces. All of this, all of the places that we admire did not come out of anywhere. Let's than dig deeper into the ground and get to know more about the geology of Iceland and how Iceland was formed.

How was Iceland formed?

Iceland is relatively young in terms of geology. It was formed within the past 25 million years. The island is situated on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, on the border of two tectonic plates, the North American and the Eurasia ones. It lies on a hotspot, the Icelandic plume, which is believed to have caused the formation of Iceland.

As a result, the island has such high volcanic activity. Iceland is mainly made of the tertiary volcanic rocks: basalts, breccia, basalt tuff and ash. These rocks are the result of the eruptions of fissure volcanoes. The Tertiary period played a vital role in the formation of Iceland. This is when the tectonic changes took place and stimulated volcanic activity in the area. Multiple volcanic floods took place and created a multi-layer bridge connecting Europe and America. With the end of the Tertiary period, the volcanic activity became weaker, leading to the gradual penetration of the pier and its final erosion. When the bridge collapsed, traces were left, and one of them is Iceland.

Iceland's location explains why the volcanic activity is so high and also all the possible earthquakes. There are over 130 active volcanoes in Iceland, among which the most active one is Hekla. Thanks to the volcanic activity, you can enjoy so many geothermal springs in Iceland.

Why is Iceland growing apart each year?

Iceland is the second-largest island in Europe, and it is continuously expanding. How is that possible? It is all due to its location and geological history. As mentioned above, Iceland is located on the ridge of two tectonic plates, the North American and the Eurasian. Lava is flowing out from the rift valley and continuously fills the ditch. This causes the two plates to move away from each other. The lava then fills the ridge; as such, the island is growing apart every year at a rate of 2cm. The North American plate moves away towards the west while the Eurasian plate drifts out towards the east. The fissure can be seen in Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle route. The Almannagja canyon is the largest canyon, which was formed as a result of the plates drifting.

The wateralls, lava fields and hot springs are effects of the processed of the formation of Iceland

Iceland has several seismically and volcanically active centers that are responsible for the formation of the island. Due to the tectonic forces, the rocks are always changing. Its location on the divergent boundary between the two tectonic plates in effect is making its slow splitting.

Will Iceland split in two?

Iceland is splitting apart, and this is a fact. It happens along the ridge running from the north to the souths through the Atlantic Ocean. The plates are drifting away from each other about 2cm each year. It gives around 25km every million years. So yes, it will eventually split into two. This, however, gives us still much time to be able to enjoy its beauty and all it has to offer us as tourists.

The volcanic activity, which is very high due to the place movements, is helping out. Whenever the magma comes out, it fills up a bit of the missing gaps and cracks formed. This is thanks to Iceland's location, right above a hotspot, where lava continuously rises through the crust from the mantle.

The geology of Iceland is very interesting: There is a fissue between two tectonic plates in Thingvellir

All of the internal processes and seismic forces are, however, responsible also for the unique and breathtaking landscapes. There is no other place in the world that combines so many contradictory wonders. The land of Fire and Ice will surprise you with its diversity. The powerful and dangerous volcanoes meet with long-frozen glaciers. The endless lava fields and rocks formations seem to be telling their own stories about the past and how Iceland was formed. If you would like to get to know a bit more about the geology of Iceland and see its history through the geologists' eyes, we have a perfect place for you. The LJÓSBRÁ STONE AND MINERAL MUSEUM offers an excellent exhibition for its guests and those fascinated by volcanoes, glaciers, and tectonic forms. The second great choice for geology and lava fans is the Lava Center, located around 99km away from Reykjavik. There is an excellent exhibition dedicated to the magnificent volcanoes

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