Iceland is the second largest island in Europe, after Great Britain. It touches the Arctic Circle in the north and has maritime boundaries with Greenland in the west and northwest, Jan Mayen (Norwegian) in the north and the Faroe Islands in the southeast.

The ocean around Iceland includes the boundary where warmer Atlantic currents from the south meet colder waters from the north. Oceanic conditions thus vary greatly depending on the state of these currents but the climate in Iceland is temperate for its northern location.

The effect of the Irminger current

The Irminger current keeps the waters south and west of Iceland relatively warm and stable. The major spawning grounds for most Icelandic fish stocks are located in these waters. Most fish species spawn in early spring, when the larvae benefit from the spring phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms while drifting to their nursery areas.

The waters north of the country, however, are colder and the range of temperature fluctuations is far greater than south of the island. Nonetheless, these waters are important rearing grounds for capelin, herring, haddock, and cod juveniles. Further north, the waters become even colder but are more stable.

A few numerical facts on Icelandic waters

The mixing of sunlit surface waters and nutrient rich deeper waters results in the fairly high productivity of Icelandic waters. The ecosystem is home to many species. Yet it is dominated by relatively few abundant species, of which cod is economically most important. Annual total catch figures have ranged between one and two million tonnes during the last decades.

A few numerical facts about the ocean around Iceland:

Value Unit
The total size of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) 758,000 km2
The size of the continental shelf less than 500 m deep 212,000 km2
The size of the continental shelf less than 200 m deep 111,000 km2
Total length of the coastline 5,000 km
Distance to nearest neighbour (Greenland) 280 km
Threshold depth Denmark Strait 620 m
Threshold depth Iceland-Faroe ridge 550 m
Maximum depth in the EEZ 3,300 m