Iceland Geology

Iceland is truly a fascinating place. The culture and history are interesting enough on their own, but Iceland’s geological history is awe-inspiring in its own right. Geologically speaking, Iceland is unique. Known as the land of fire and ice thanks to an unusual combination of ice and glaciers meeting volcanic activity, Iceland has been fascinating geologists and scientists of all types for generations.

Iceland’s unusual and ongoing tectonic activity is what makes Iceland so geologically interesting. From volcanoes to hot springs and so much more, read on to discover what unique geological occurrences you can see on your visit to Iceland.


Iceland isn’t known as the land of ice and fire for no reason. There is an abundance of volcanoes in Iceland, with a high concentration of active ones due to Iceland’s location on the mid-Atlantic Ridge. The island has 30 active volcanoes the most volatile being Grímsvötn. Iceland is infamous for its volcanic geology, which is no surprise seeing as the country’s volcanoes have erupted a third of the total global lava output. The tectonic plates are pulling apart from each other, magma then rises to fill the space between them which causes volcanic eruptions.

Geothermal activity

Geothermal energy in Iceland is used in a diverse number of ways. The geothermal energy can be harnessed for heating as well as the production of electricity. Iceland’s geothermal activity can be seen along the infamous Golden Circle, where the highly active Geysir Hot Spring area sits. Explosive geysers and the lively Strokkur spout water of 30 metres into the air every few minutes. The geothermal field is believed to have a surface area of approximately 3km ². Being situated in an active geothermal area, the water underground meets hot bedrock and causes a huge build-up of pressure. When this pressure is released, water sprouts high up into the air. Be careful when visiting geysers as they can be very hot!

Iceland also has an abundance of hot springs, which are produced by the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater. Some of these springs contain water that is safe for bathing in, which is considered an experience of a lifetime. However, always research before visiting a hot spring because some are unsafe to bathe in.


Iceland is well known for its many glaciers, which can widely vary in size and shape. Glaciers are unique in their own right, as they have the ability to move. The largest glacier in Europe sits in Iceland, called the Vatnajökull glacier, which is also known as the ‘Water Glacier’. There are five ice caps in Iceland; Vatnajökull, Langjökull, Hofsjökull, Mýrdalsjökull and Drangajökull.

Tectonic plates

Iceland is the only place where the tectonic plates can be seen above sea level, which makes the country a hotspot in a geological context.  The forces of the tectonic plates can be seen in Thingvellir, which is in the southern part of Iceland. Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, you can visibly see the North American plates are pulling apart, which has caused many of the volcanic eruptions in Iceland.