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228
ICELAND

mean elevation of the north-west peninsula is 2000 ft. The fjords and glens which cut into it are shut in by precipitous walls of basalt, which plainly shows that they have been formed by erosion through the mass of the plateau. The surface of this tableland is also bare and desolate, being covered with gravel and fragments of rock. Here and there are large straggling snowfields, the largest being Glámu and Drangajökull,[1] on the culminating points of the plateau. The only inhabited districts are the shores of the fjords, where grass grows capable of supporting sheep; but a large proportion of the population gain their livelihood by fishing. The other and larger tableland, which constitutes the substantial part of Iceland, reaches its culminating point in the south-east, in the gigantic snowfield of Vatnajökull, which covers 3300 sq. m. The axis of highest elevation of Iceland stretches from north-west to south-east, from the head of Hvammsfjörðr to Hornafjörðr, and from this water-parting the rivers descend on both sides. The crest of the water-parting is crowned by a chain of snow-capped mountains, separated by broad patches of lower ground. They are really a chain of minor plateaus which rise 4500 to 6250 ft. above sea-level and 2000 to 3000 ft. above the tableland itself. In the extreme east is Vatnajökull, which is separated from Tungnafellsjökull by Vonarskard (3300 ft.). Between Tungnafellsjökull and Hofsjökull lies the broad depression of Sprengisandr (2130 ft.). Continuing north-west, between Hofsjökull and the next snow-capped mountain, Langjökull, lies Kjölur (2000 ft.); and between Langjökull and Eiriksjökull, Flosaskard (2630 ft.). To the north of the jöklar last mentioned there are a number of lakes, all well stocked with fish. Numerous valleys or glens penetrate into the tableland, especially on the north and east, and between them long mountain spurs, sections of the tableland which have resisted the action of erosion, thrust themselves towards the sea. Of these the most considerable is the mass crowned by Mýrdalsjökull, which stretches towards the south. The interior of the tableland consists for the most part of barren, grassless deserts, the surface being covered by gravel, loose fragments of rock, lava, driftsand, volcanic ashes and glacial detritus.

Save the lower parts of the larger glens, there are no lowlands on the north and east. The south coast is flat next the sea; but immediately underneath Vatnajökull there is a strip of gravel and sand, brought down and deposited by the glacial streams. The largest low-lying plain of Iceland, lying between Mýrdalsjökull and Reykjanes, has an area of about 1550 sq. m. In its lowest parts this plain barely keeps above sea-level, but it rises gradually towards the interior, terminating in a ramification of valleys. Its maximum altitude is attained at 381 ft. near Geysir. On the west of Mount Hekla this plain connects by a regular slope directly with the tableland, to the great injury of its inhabited districts, which are thus exposed to the clouds of pumice dust and driftsand that cover large areas of the interior. Nevertheless the greater part of this lowland plain produces good grass, and is relatively well inhabited. The plain is drained by three rivers—Markarfljót, Thjórsá and Oelfusá—all of large volume, and numerous smaller streams. Towards the west there exist a number of warm springs. There is another lowland plain around the head of Faxaflói, nearly 400 sq. m. in extent. As a rule the surface of this second plain is very marshy. Several dales or glens penetrate the central tableland; the eastern part of this lowland is called Borgarfjörðr, the western part Mýrar.

The great bays on the west of the island (Faxaflói and Breiðifjörðr),[2] as well as the many bays on the north, which are separated from one another by rocky promontories, appear to owe their origin to subsidences of the surface; whereas the fjords of the north-west peninsula, which make excellent harbours, and those of the east coast seem to be the result chiefly of erosion.

EB1911 Iceland.jpg
Emery Walker sc.

Glaciers.—An area of 5170 sq. m. is covered with snowfields and glaciers. This extraordinary development of ice and snow is due to the raw, moist climate, the large rainfall and the low summer temperature. The snow-line varies greatly in different parts of the island, its range being from 1300 to 4250 ft. It is highest on the tableland, on the north side of Vatnajökull, and lowest on the north-west peninsula, to the south of North Cape. Without exception the great névés of Iceland belong to the interior tableland. They consist of slightly rounded domes or billowy snowfields of vast thickness. In external appearance they bear a closer resemblance to the glaciers of the Polar regions than to those of the Alps. The largest snowfields are Vatnajökull (3280 sq. m.), Hofsjökull (520) Langjökull (500) and Mýrdalsjökull (390). The glaciers which stream off from these snowfields are often of vast extent, e.g. the largest glacier of Vatnajökull has an area of 150 to 200 sq. m., but the greater number are small. Altogether, more than 120 glaciers are known in Iceland. It is on the south side of Vatnajökull that they descend lowest; the lower end of Breidamerkurjökull was in the year 1894 only 30 ft. above sea-level. The glaciers of the north-west peninsula also descend nearly to sea-level. The great number of streams of large volume is due to the moist climate and the abundance of glaciers, and the milky white or yellowish-brown colour of their waters (whence the common name Hvítá, white) is due to the glacial clays. The majority of them change their courses very often, and vary greatly in volume; frequently they are impetuous torrents, forming numerous waterfalls. Iceland also possesses a great number of lakes, the largest being Thingvallavatn[3] and Thorisvatn, each about 27 sq. m. in area. Mývatn, in the north, is well known from the natural beauty of its surroundings. Above its surface tower a great number of volcanoes and several craters, and its waters are alive with water-fowl, a multitude of ducks of various species breeding on its islands. The lakes of Iceland owe their origin to different causes, some being due to glacial erosion, others to volcanic subsidence. Mývatn fills a depression between lava streams, and has a depth of not more than 8¾ ft. The group of lakes called Fiskivötn (or Veidivötn), which lie in a desolate region to the west of Vatnajökull, consist for the most part of crater lakes. The groups of lakes which lie north-west from Langjökull occupy basins formed between ridges of glacial gravel; and in

  1. Jökull, plural jöklar, Icel. snowfield, glacier.
  2. Flói, bay; fjörðr, fjord.
  3. Vatn, lake.