Is Iceland in the Arctic or not?
There are three definitions of what the word ‘Arctic’ means. One puts Iceland entirely outside the Arctic, another puts a fraction of the country inside it, and the third puts over half the country in the Arctic. But wait, there’s more…
First though, the three definitions: the Arctic Circle is the line above which the sun does not set on the summer solstice and does not rise on the winter solstice. As the small offshore island of Grímsey crosses this line, Iceland (the country) can be considered Arctic; although Iceland (the island) cannot.
All of Iceland is considered to be below the tree line, where trees are capable of growing vertically. Therefore not Arctic.
The most interesting one is probably the ten degree line. This is the line north of which the average July temperature does not exceed 10°C. Over half of Iceland is above that line and therefore ‘Arctic’.
So the scientific results are inconclusive and the people results probably are too. People visit Iceland for different reasons. Those here for the glaciers, the skiing, the northern lights, the expansive barren highlands and the overall adventure of being on the fringe of Europe probably consider Iceland to be the Arctic. Other people who fly to Iceland to enjoy its geothermal swimming, its culture, its pure local food and hiking through the lush green countryside, strewn with wild flowers; well they probably think Iceland is not Arctic at all.
The locals too will talk freely about the harsh north, surviving in the Arctic and suchlike to tourists, because it sells! But really most people think of their country as being more like Scotland, central Norway and Canada than as being like Greenland, Lapland or Svalbard. There really is no comparison…
Despite its high north location, Iceland benefits from the Gulf Stream, which means that while nature goes Arctic-quiet in the long winter and even the grass turns brown, the snow is not a permanent feature of city streets. The currents also mean that when the spring arrives, plants and animals can make full use of the constant daylight and gardeners and farmers are able to grow all sorts of unexpected things, like sunflowers, wheat, peas and oak trees. That doesn’t sound at all Arctic, does it? And nor do all the bees, wasps, spiders, slugs and other creepies – and the country even has ladybirds now, thanks to climate change.
On the other hand, there are no ants or snails. There are no native reptiles or amphibians either and thanks to our glaciers, Arctic lovers can find snow all year round.
So once again, the land of contrasts, the land of fire and ice, the land where nothing is quite as it seems, lives up to expectations. Iceland is both a fertile, temperate, European country like any other…and it is also a barren, frozen Arctic wasteland…all at the same time. Awesome!