Oh. So that's why they call it that.

By Phil Plait | April 3, 2011 7:35 am


Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Jeff Schmaltz/MODIS Land Rapid Response Team

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Pretty pictures

Comments (51)

  1. Steve H

    LOL, proof of tectonic plate movement… Italy used to be near the upper left corner of Iceland. Hmmm… but how’d it flip over? 😉

  2. Travis Roy

    My wife and I went there for our honeymoon. Lovely country, beautiful scenery.


  3. Wzrd1

    It got sideswiped by a drunk driving plate. 😉

  4. db26

    Good eyes…it has shifted 4″ over the years. Which in the photo, is approximately 0.000000000000004 of a millimeter.

  5. Mike

    C-C-C-C-Cold. Ugh.

  6. Trebuchet

    So obviously Greenland is…green?

  7. Plait tectonics encapsulated by a blog post of one word.

  8. Great image :-)

    Iceland would have to be high on my list of places I’d love to travel to – I’d love to see volcanoes, glaciers and the aurorae up close and in person.

    But did you really use to wonder about why Iceland has that name, BA? 😉

    @6. Trebuchet : “So obviously Greenland is…green?

    Not yet – but the way things are going global warming~wise .. well give it a few thousand years – or a few hundred (or less?) if a tipping point is reached.

    PS. Rarely has the “Cool stuff” tag been more apt here! 😉

  9. Rasputin

    Somehow the only thing that comes to mind is a homeopathic scotch on the rocks.

  10. Christian

    Who knew, it snows in the winter… Seriously Phil???

  11. Yeah, that always confused me as a kid…Greenland was all ice, while Iceland was lush and green.

  12. Your Tauntaun will freeze before you’ve reached the first marker, Phil.


  13. ntsc

    Literally named by real-estate agents according to my Danish grandparents. They didn’t want people to want to come to Iceland, but they did want to sell them on Greenland.

  14. Thopter

    I agree with ntsc. I always believed that the naming of Greenland and Iceland were PR stunts.

  15. Jonatan Gislason

    i can almost see my house from there :)

  16. Jonatan Gislason

    and that picture is most likely taken that one day a year that almost all Iceland is covered with snow

  17. Flying into Keflavík it’s certainly not lush and green…it looks mostly volcanic.

  18. Electro

    Hmmm….I thought the Vikings named Iceland and Greenland based on what the coastal terrain was like at the time they arrived.
    Mebbe I’ll google i.t

  19. John Paradox

    RE: Iceland and Greenland. I recall in school one teacher who told us that, similar to what Thopter says, when they were being named, Greenland was intended to PR people to travel there and Iceland was to make people avoid it.. so they could ‘keep it to themselves’.
    Questionable, but it is logical that “misnaming” the two would affect how people would choose which to go to.”J/P=?

  20. katwagner

    I agree with the PR stuff and the naming of the two countries, according to a teacher or professor I had once. Greenland is all icy and Iceland is all greeny. Usually.

  21. According to tradition Iceland got its name from a Norseman who spent one year there and then returned to Norway saying that no one could live there. Greenland got its name from Eiríkur rauði, Erik the Red, who had to flee Iceland because of his rather violent nature. The name was his way to get more people to move there from Iceland (and the climate being rather better a thousand years ago).

    Both of these stories were written well after the respective namings took place.

    Btw. Phil is always welcome in Iceland. We have more geology than is good for such a small country, melting glaciers and volcanic eruptions. I think Randi was pleased after his visit with us last year.

  22. That’s where you can get to the center of the Earth.

  23. Mike

    @6 Damn, beat me to it. 😉

  24. I can see my house from up here! 😀

    Hello from Iceland! o/

  25. Oh, don’t get me wrong Óli Gneisti. I’d love to visit, especially after the terrific ad using Emiliani Torrini’s song “Jungle Drums” (one NSFW moment).

  26. Zyggy

    I had always heard that the names of Iceland and Greenland were simply a cartographer’s error. He switched the names when making a map, and the names kinda stuck.


  27. Teknowaffle

    I need to send this to my brother in law. He is moving from Sweden to Iceland. Now I can point and laugh.

  28. Gary Ansorge

    26. Phil Plait

    That was a COMMERCIAL?



    Gary 7

  29. Daniel J. Andrews

    A few years back a young reporter who was from Iceland spent some time in the Yukon writing for a newspaper in Whitehorse. She used to say some of the scenery in the Yukon reminded her of parts of Iceland. That puts Iceland on my bucket list.

  30. WJM

    So why isn’t it called Snowland?

  31. Shoggoth
  32. JB of Brisbane

    I prefer the names Phrygia and Arborea myself.

  33. @^ JB of Brisbane : Aren’t they locations on Mongo? 😉

    @ 11. Andrew T Says:

    Yeah, that always confused me as a kid…Greenland was all ice, while Iceland was lush and green.

    What the .. !? Really? When thinking of Iceland, “lush” & “green” are certainly NOT words that spring into my mind! 😮

    @ 20. John Paradox Says:

    RE: Iceland and Greenland. I recall in school one teacher who told us that, similar to what Thopter says, when they were being named, Greenland was intended to PR people to travel there and Iceland was to make people avoid it.. so they could ‘keep it to themselves’.

    I’d heard the one about Greenland being a PR stunt to attract settlers. Hadn’t heard the one about Iceland you mentioned.

    Quirkefact of the day :

    Apparently, if I recall right from reading an astronomy magazine or two on this, a lot of space art is based on scenes from Iceland transposed (right word?) to other planets eg,. Mars, Venus, Io, et cetera. :-)

  34. Messier Tidy Upper

    For those who don’t get the Mongo reference, this :


    will hopefully explain it for you. Fond childhood SF cartoon watching memories there. :-)

    See also of possible interest :




    For a series very, *very* similar to – although I don’t think *quite* exactly – what I first saw decades ago. 😉

    (I seem to remember an ocean splashdown instead & then a trip through the caves assuming vague memories are accurate which may not be the case. )

  35. Jote

    Funny that in spanish the name has nothing to do with ice. It’s Islandia, which means something like island-land.

  36. IsobelA

    Yep, my (potentially inaccurate) impression of Iceland is that it’s very volcanic, and therefore more grey and rocky than lush and green. I would love to visit, though – volcanic things always interesting (I love Rotorua in NZ for much the same reason).

  37. MadScientist

    @Steve H: Duh! That’s obviously the other foot – Antitalia. One day some geologist brought a piece of Italia over to Antitalia and dropped it – and Antitalia was annihilated, which explains why there is only one boot-shaped peninsula in existence.

  38. @IsobelA: Yes it is true that Iceland is rather Volcanic. But it is also an island roughly the same size of the US state of Kentucky so it would take a whole lot of volcanos to bury everything under rock before it manages to grow. :) There are the grey and rocky areas for sure. But the majority is green and filled with hot springs and nature. Similar to how Hawaii is lush even though it’s highly volcanic(at least I think it is…). Large forests however are not that common this close to the arctic. You will not see a great variety of trees. Wich is a good thing as it will allow you to enjoy the mountains that much better. 😉

  39. Lots of fjords. You know, a fjord is a narrow inlet of the sea where quality is job one.

  40. Tensor

    I was there for two years and went back for a vacation(taking my wife). Most people don’t get to the northwest coast, Akureyri, or down to Vik. I loved the glacial runoff area there. I haven’t seen anyone mention the waterfalls. They are just beautiful. And I really didn’t find the winters all that bad. I’ve had worse in Wisconsin. The summers were a bit cool though. the area around Keflavik is more than just volcanic, it can appear desolate (as can areas of the interior and the east). Now you got me wanting to go back. Well, summer is comming.

  41. Jonatan Gislason

    31. WJM Says:
    April 4th, 2011 at 12:01 am
    So why isn’t it called Snowland?

    Becaus it acctualy dosen´t snow here that much!! mostly in the northern part of the contry but here around the south coast and the east and west there isn´t snow theo whole winter

  42. Levi in NY

    @Jote: Actually, the Spanish word “Islandia” doesn’t come from “Island”, it comes from the Icelandic name for Iceland, which is “Ísland”, plus the suffix “-ia” which is just a generic suffix for countries.

    And interestingly, the English word “island” is completely unrelated to the word “isle” or to the Spanish word “isla”, which come from the Latin word “insula” (as in “insulate”, “insular”, “peninsula”, etc.). It is actually a Germanic word derived from Old English “īġland” (the Ġ was pronounced like a Y). The silent S was added in the Middle Ages by philologists who mistakenly thought the word was a derivative of “insula”. The Icelandic name “Ísland” just means “Ice-land” (“ís” meaning “ice”).

  43. Joseph G

    @26 Phil Plait: Great, now I’ve got another entry on my list of places I really want to go but can’t afford to in this lifetime. At least I have plenty of time to learn Icelandic 😛

    @43 Levi: You just etymologically blew my mind!

  44. Keith Bowden

    So. Why is Finland so named? (cue Jaws theme…)

  45. Joseph G

    @45: Heh. Which is also why Scotland has lots of Scotch 😀

    /wait a minnit…

  46. Dave

    #40 Have you driven a fjord lately? Maybe that should read ‘sailed’

  47. Messier Tidy Upper

    @46. Joseph G : So, that also explains why the Swiss are so cheesy? 😉

    @38. MadScientist : Nice one -LOL. :-)

    @ 43. Levi in NY : Interesting & informative – thanks for that. :-)

  48. Levi in NY

    “Finland” means “land of the Finns”. As to why they are called Finns, nobody is certain, but for some reason they were given that name by ancient Germanic tribes. It could possibly be a derivative of “finthan” which meant “to find, wander”, referring to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle still practiced by the Sámi people in the north of the country.

  49. Matt B.

    Wow, the southeast coast hit the weather lottery.


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