Iceland Is Growing New Forests for the First Time in 1,000 Years


Within a few centuries, Iceland became “among the worst examples in the world of deforestation.” Today, the Icelandic Forest Service has taken on the mammoth task of bringing back the woodlands. (National Geographic)

Use today’s simple MapMaker Interactive map to help students understand land-use patterns in Iceland.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including a link to today’s video and MapMaker Interactive map.

Experiment with layers to understand land-use patterns in Iceland.

Discussion Ideas


  • Iceland is a wintry island that gets as much as 2,000 millimeters (80 inches) of rainfall a year. Why has deforestation put it at risk for desertification?
    • Desertification is kind of a misleading word. Desertification does not make a forested area into a desert. Deserts are fantastic and fascinating natural ecosystems, with a rich array of uniquely adapted biodiversity. Desertification describes the process of natural vegetation being removed from an area more quickly than plants and animals can adapt.
    • Loss of vegetation (such as trees, shrubs, and flowers) is the leading factor in the desertification process. Plant roots anchor and aerate the soil, as well as enrich it with nutrients. In areas with little vegetation, fertile topsoil is much more likely to erode—be blown away in high winds or washed away in flash floods. In addition to storms and floods, Throstur Eysteinsson, the forester in the video, also mentions “frost heaves.” Frost heaving describes the process of ice from an area’s frozen water table growing toward the surface, disrupting soil consistency and sometimes leading to sinkholes and cracked surfaces.


  • Imported steel alleviated the pressing need for charcoal in the 1970s. Why didn’t the forests grow back naturally?
    • Constant grazing of livestock such as sheep, cattle, and swine prevented vegetation from growing back.



Sitka spruces like these at a plantation near Reykjavík, are among trees that are reforesting Iceland.
Photograph by Axel Kristinsson, courtesy Wikimedia. CC BY 2.0


Nat Geo: Iceland Is Growing New Forests for the First Time in 1,000 Years

Nat Geo: Where are Iceland’s Forests? map

Icelandic Forest Service: Forestry in a treeless land

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