Iceland is an island located on the mid-Atlantic ridge in the northern part of the Atlantic Ocean. The population is 266,000. The country area is 103,000 km2 with a coastline of 4,790 km. It is a mountainous country, the average altitude being 500 m above sea level. The central highlands are surrounded by lowlands cut by fjords and valleys. Continuous vegetation covers about 25% of the land area, glaciers constitute about 11%, and lakes and rivers cover 2.2% or 2,300km2. The remaining 60,000 km2 are sparsely vegetated or consist of barren land. Iceland has 1,840 lakes with a surface area greater than 0.1 km2, most of them being, however, small. The rivers are short and fast-flowing.

Monitoring of surface water

No national monitoring network is currently in operation, but programmes for monitoring of rivers, lakes and marine areas are presently being established. The organization responsible is the Environmental and Food Agency.

Rivers and streams

In the period 1971-74 a survey on the chemical composition of river water was carried out in 20 rivers in western Iceland. Currently flow is measured systematically and temperature and conductivity regularly at 112 sampling sites around the country. The turbidity is measured in glacial rivers. The National Energy Authority are responsible for these measurements. A nation-wide monitoring programme under the Ministry for the Environment is yet to be established. The objective is assessment of nutrient loading of rivers and streams.


Two lakes, Lake Thingvallavatn and Lake Mývatn, have been subject to intensive studies. Lake Mývatn and its affluent, the river Laxa, are monitored every year, principally by means of biological monitoring, while chemical measurements in the tributaries, the affluents (river Laxa), and in the lake itself are made on a more irregular basis. The Lake Mývatn monitoring programme, as well as separate research projects, are undertaken under the auspices of the Ministry for the Environment, the University of Iceland and the Lake Mývatn Research Centre.

Marine waters

Marine monitoring programmes focusing on pollutants in the ocean are being developed in accordance with the international programmes and agreements in which Iceland participates. Iceland joined the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) in 1991 and also puts great emphasis on taking part in the Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP).

A working group under the Ministry for the Environment is responsible for establishing and implementing the monitoring programmes. The institutes involved are: the Marine Research Institute, the Icelandic Meteorological Office, the Department of Pharmacology of the University of Iceland, the Directorate of Shipping and the Environmental and Food Agency.


Geographic coverage


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Filed under: surface water
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