How was Iceland formed? - Iceland's Geological Past
Updated: Jun 15
To many, this question may seem somewhat odd. Some of you may even find it boring and let me tell you, that’s so wrong! Why? well, first of all, knowing how things are made, formed, or came to exist never hurt anyone. And second, knowing how Iceland was formed will provide an answer to many of the phenomena, landscapes, and unique features that you will see throughout the country. Wondering how Iceland was formed in a simple way? This is your article!
So, I will try to find an easy and simple way to explain how Iceland came to be. We will start off with the basics and that is Icelandic nature. I would dare to say that almost everybody knows is that Iceland is a truly extraordinary country. Anywhere you turn to or look, mother nature seems to be at its finest. From imposing glaciers that have been covering our mountains, silently and reserved, for centuries. To the fiery calderas of raging volcanoes that from time to time cannot help but put on a show.
None of that is random. The existence of geysers can no longer be attributed to the enchanting stories from Viking folklore but to science. Scientific explanations may be less magical but they are still necessary. As you may already have noticed, we are not a scientific blog, however, as Icelanders, we do know our own land quite in detail so we will share a fact (or two) with you.
How was Iceland formed?
The short and simple answer is that Iceland was formed by volcanic and seismic activity. But of course, unless you are an expert in geology, that and a five-dollar bill will get you a cup of coffee. So let's dig a little deeper.
Our planet earth is not a sphere of reinforced concrete, rigid and immovable. On the contrary, there are several layers, some more solid and others more liquid, that are constantly interacting with each other and moving. Among all these layers, there is an outer area where we find the tectonic plates. These are solid and extensive fragments of rock that slide down on what we can call a “conveyor belt” of lava. And you may be asking yourself: What does this have to do with Iceland?
Well, Iceland is in the northernmost part of the Atlantic Ocean, in a fairly remote area. But there stands this lovely island, lonely and forsaken. Its location is precisely the key to understand how Iceland was formed. And it is that under the Icelandic soil, right in the middle, we find the mid-Atlantic ridge. A ridge, speaking plainly, is the boundary between two tectonic plates. In this case the Eurasian and the North American ones. So yes, Iceland is officially seated between two continents.
Being in the middle of a ridge or boundary between plates usually involves a lot of geological activity. The plates move, collide with each other, separate, move away. They feed on magma that rises from more interior layers and are cooled by the waters of the deep ocean. The area is full of volcanoes in constant activity, the pressure of the interior of the earth always tries to escape and it ends up finding its way in hot places like these. Out of all this geological chaos, Iceland is born.
When was Iceland formed?
Iceland was formed about 25 million years ago. And it may seem like an awful lot of time, but the truth is that, in geological terms, Iceland is a newborn. So you can get a rough idea, the oldest rock dated is around four billion years old, yep, billion, with a B. As we mentioned before, Iceland is right in the middle of the boundary between two tectonic plates that are separating from each other. All this produces a great volcanic activity that gradually gave shape to the island we know today.
Therefore, Iceland is honored to have the title of the youngest area of the earth! What's more, Iceland also has its own baby land. There is a small volcanic island in southern Iceland called Surtsey. This island is the newest piece of earth in the country, it began to form on November 14, 1963, about 20 kilometers away from the Westmann Islands.
It holds great geological importance as it allows scientists and geologists to study and see how new land is formed, how nature adapts to it and evolves.
Is Iceland splitting apart?
It is indeed. The tectonic plates on which Iceland sits are moving apart at the rate of 2.5cm per year. Eventually, these divergent plates will end up splitting the whole island in two. The whole border goes across the nation, right through its middle part. One day, Iceland will no longer be a single piece of land.
Will we live to see it? Well, I'm afraid not. Even so, we can actually see the current fissure, you just have to come to visit us. Take your rental car in Iceland and go to Thingvellir National Park. There, you can walk between two continents, and if you feel adventurous enough, you can dive between America and Europe. Fascinating, right?
No, we are not talking about getting WIFI services in Iceland. With hotspots, we refer to those places on earth where there is an enormous and intense geological and volcanic activity. They are usually hotter spots compared to other areas of the globe.
Currently, that hot spot in Iceland is just below the Vatnajökull glacier. You will be amazed to know that, this immense frozen mass keeps, deep in its entrails, not only one but many active volcanoes that love to remind us of their existence from time to time. One of those volcanoes, Grímsvötn, seems to be accumulating magma and may erupt in the near future.
South Iceland Seismic Zone
We cannot have volcanoes without any seismic movements. Tremors and earthquakes are common on this Nordic island. And I mean, with such a mixture of geological chaos, moving plates, active volcanoes it would be quite strange not to have an earthquake. In Iceland we have earth tremors every day, now, most do not usually exceed magnitude 3 on the Richter scale. The strongest earthquake we have experienced on the Island was 6.6 on the Richter scale.
The southern part of Iceland is quite prone to earthquakes. Some can be perceived on the surface even though they are not too powerful. And it is that in areas such as the Reykjanes Peninsula there are fractures and constant displacements that cause this series of earth tremors continuously. If you are visiting the area, do not panic, it is completely normal.
How was Iceland formed?
We hope you learned a little more about how Iceland was formed! If you are passionate about geology, you can follow the monitoring of seismic movements in the following link. Do not hesitate to come to visit Iceland. All geysers, glaciers, and volcanoes are at your disposal so that you can experience, up close, what the forces of mother nature and the elements are capable of creating.