Due to its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is volcanically and geologically active on a large scale; this defines the landscape in various ways. The interior mainly consists of a plateau characterized by sand fields, mountains and glaciers, while many big glacial rivers flow to the sea through the lowlands. Because of the Gulf Stream, Iceland has a temperate climate relative to its latitude and provides a habitable environment and nature.
Iceland has a history of habitation since about the year 874 when, according to Landnámabók, the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson became the first permanent Norwegian settler on the island. Others had visited the island earlier and stayed over winter. Over the next centuries, people of Nordic and Gaelic origin settled in Iceland. Until the twentieth century, the Icelandic population relied on fisheries and agriculture, and was from 1262 to 1944 a part of the Norwegian and later the Danish monarchies. In the twentieth century, Iceland’s economy and welfare system developed quickly.
Today, Iceland is a developed country, the world’s fifth in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita and second in human development. It is based upon a free market economy where service, finance, fishing and various industries are the main sectors. Tourism is popular, as many people are attracted to Iceland’s exotic scenery. Iceland is a member of the UN, NATO, EFTA, EEA and OECD, but not of the European Union.