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This document employs decimal ISO 8859-1 characters for Icelandic letters.


Richard S. Williams, Jr.
U.S. Geological Survey
Quissett Campus
Woods Hole, MA 02543 U.S.A.


October 1995

This report is preliminary and has not been reviewed for conformity with U.S. Geological Survey editorial standards.
Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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When dealing with Icelandic names of physical geographic features on maps and in journal articles it is important for students of the geology of Iceland to recognize that most place-names are compound words. For example, the volcanic island Surtsey is a compound word derived from the root ey, the Icelandic word for island, and Surts, the genitive case of Surtur, a mythological Norse giant of fire (world destroyer). Svartifoss, the beautiful cascade which flows over columnar basalts along the course of Bæjargil in Skaftafell National Park, is a compound word derived from foss, the Icelandic word for waterfall, and svarti, the definite nominative case form of svartur, the Icelandic adjective for the color black. Snæfellsjökull, an imposing stratovolcano at the tip of the Snæfellsnes peninsula on the north side of Faxaflói (named after the small ice cap (11 km2) on its summit), is a compound word derived from snæ, the root of snær, an Icelandic word for snow; and fells, the genitive case of the Icelandic word for a usually isolated mountain, plus the word jökull, the Icelandic word for glacier (etymologically the same origin as the word icicle in English).

Icelandic is rich in words which describe natural features and phenomena often in a very poetic way, such as Snæfellsjökull (described above), Skjaldbreiður ("broad shield"), and Herðubreið ("broad shoulders"). Because Icelandic and English are derivations of an older parent Germanic language, some words have retained a similar spelling and usage even after the passage of more than a thousand years or more (for example, fingur-finger, frost, mýri-mire (swamp), land, norður-north, bull (nonsense), etc.). Icelandic (Old Norse) has remained virtually unchanged, while English has evolved through several well defined stages: "Old English" (pre-1100 A.D.), "Middle English" (1100 A.D. to 1500 A.D.), and "Modern English" (post-1500 A.D.) and has been strongly influenced by the Latin and French languages.

Icelandic and English share a generally common alphabet except for three Icelandic letters, eth (ð,Ð), thorn (þ, Þ), and ae (æ, Æ), three letters once used in English and four English letters not used in Icelandic. The letters c, q, w are not used in Icelandic except in a few foreign loanwords. The letter z was used in place of the s in some Icelandic words until a few years ago (for example, Íslenzk, now Íslensk). Icelandic also uses diacritical marks to denote independent vowel sounds. Modern Icelandic has 33 letters in its alphabet: a, á, b, d, ð , e, é, f, g, h, i, í, j, k, l, m, n, o, ó, p, r, s, t, u, ú, v, x, y, ý, z, þ, æ, and ö (note that words beginning with þ, æ, and ö are listed as the last three letters in Icelandic dictionaries). There are 14 discrete vowels (printed and spoken) used in Icelandic versus 6 printed vowels (and many more spoken) used in modern English. The transliteration of the Icelandic alphabet into the English alphabet usually results in the deletion of all diacritical notations over the vowels and the use of a d or D for ð and Ð, th or Th for þ and Þ, and ae or Ae for æ and Æ.

As noted before, in the past 1,100 years English has undergone profound changes; Icelandic is little changed; English has lost most of its inflexions (case endings); Icelandic has retained its inflexions (it employs four singular and plural case endings for the three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter). Also, the Northern Branch (Icelandic, Færoese, Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish) of the Germanic Language uses a post-positive article, in which the definite article (the) generally follows and is attached to the noun, such as in the title of the Icelandic scientific journal Náttúrufræðingurinn (The Naturalist). The definite article can precede the noun if an intervening adjective is used, however, as in Hið íslenska náttúrufræðifélag (The Icelandic Natural History Society). Hinn hvíti jökull (the white glacier) can also be expressed as hvíti jökullinn. In addition, the definite article must agree in gender number and case with the noun. No indefinite article (a or an) is used in Icelandic; the absence of the definite article indicates the sense of an indefinite article.

The following masculine, feminine, and neuter nouns are declined in the singular and plural for each of the four cases: nominative (subject), accusative (direct object), dative (indirect object), and genitive (possessive), first without and then with the definite article.

			jökull (glacier) - masculine noun

	(a glacier)					(glaciers)

sg.	nom.	jökull				pl.	nom.	jöklar

	acc.	jökul					acc.	jökla

	dat.	jökli					dat.	jöklum

	gen.	jökuls					gen.	jökla

	(the glacier)					(the glaciers)

	sg.	nom	jökullinn			pl.	nom.	jöklarnir

	acc.	jökulinn				acc.	jöklana

	dat.	jöklinum				dat.	jöklunum

	gen.	jökulsins				gen.	jöklanna

			borg (rocky hill) - feminine noun

	(a rocky hill)					(rocky hills)

	sg.	nom.	borg				pl.	nom.	borgir

	acc.	borg					acc.	borgir

	dat.	borg					dat.	borgum

	gen.	borgar					gen.	borga

	(the rocky hill)				(the rocky hills)

sg.	nom.	borgin				pl.	nom.	borgirnar

	acc.	borgina					acc.	borgirnar

	dat.	borginni				dat.	borgunum

	gen.	borgarinnar				gen.	borganna

			vatn   (lake) - neuter noun

	(a lake)					(lakes)

sg.	nom.	vatn				pl.	nom.	vötn

	acc.	vatn					acc.	vötn

	dat.	vatni					dat.	vötnum

	gen.	vatns					gen.	vatna

	(the lake)					(the lakes)

sg.	nom.	vatnið				pl.	nom.	vötnin

	acc.	vatnið					acc.	vötnin

	dat.	vatninu					dat.	vötnunum

	gen.	vatnsins				gen.	vatnanna

Jökull, borg, and vatn appear frequently as compounds in Icelandic geographic place-names, such as in Snæfellsjökull, Vatnajökull, Jökulsá á Fjöllum, etc.; Eldborg, Vikraborgir, Þrengslaborgir, etc.; and Vatnaöldur, Grænavatn, Veiðivötn, etc., respectively.

Another grammatical characteristic that Icelandic shares with English is radical changes in spelling of words in different grammatical cases and from singular to plural forms. For example, the Icelandic word for mountain, fjall, becomes fjöll in the nominative (and accusative) plural (mountains) as in Hverfjall, Hlíðarfjall, Fögrufjöll, and Dyngjufjöll. A usually isolated mountain in Icelandic is called a fell, as in Búrfell or Snæfellsjökull. The Icelandic word for island, ey, such as in Surtsey, becomes eyjar in the genitive singular, as in Eldeyjarboði, or when used in the plural for a group of islands (Vestmannaeyjar). The genitive singular case is commonly used in the first part of compound place-names in Icelandic.

The Icelandic desire to maintain the "purity" of its spoken and written language is shown in its resistance to acceptance of foreign loanwords. Hence, there is a great lack of cognates in the modern technical and scientific literature. Rather than accept foreign words, most new technical and scientific words are coined from existing Icelandic words. In addition to the challenge of learning Icelandic, the serious student of the geoscience literature of Iceland is faced with also learning a specialized scientific vocabulary with few cognates.

The appendix on Icelandic-English Glossary of Selected Geoscience Terms will assist the reader in making a smoother transition to and a better understanding of Icelandic place-names and other geoscience terms commonly used on maps and in the geoscience literature of Iceland. For those readers interested in the origin of Icelandic geographic place-names, the publications of Örnefnastofnun Þjóðminjasafns, Suðurgötu 41, IS-101 Reykjavík, are expecially usefull. In 1980 and 1983, respectively, the Director of Örnefnastofnun Þjóðminjasafns, Dr. Þórhallur Vilmundarson, edited and published the first two volumes of Grímnir (Rit um nafnfræði), a periodical devoted to scholarly research into the origin of geographic place-names in Iceland (Þórhallur Vilmundarson, 1980 and 1983). The best reference work to Icelandic geographic place-names is the two-volume set "Landið þitt", later expanded into six volumes by Þorsteinn Jósepsson and Steindór Steindórsson (1981, 1983, and 1984) and Þorsteinn Jósepsson and others (1982,1984, and 1985).

The Icelandic-English Glossary of Selected Geoscience Terms has been compiled from a variety of published sources, including glossaries or indexes included in various scientific publications, map legends or explanations, guidebooks, textbooks, journal articles, and selected dictionaries. A list of these appears at the end of the glossary in Glossary sources.

The following Icelandic-English Glossary of Selected Geoscience Terms is organized into four columns: Icelandic word (nominative singular); class of word and gender (nm, noun-masculine; nf, noun-feminine; nn, noun-neuter; am, adjective-masculine; af, adjective-feminine; an, adjective-neuter; ad, adverb; p, preposition; and c, conjunction); Icelandic word (nominative plural); and equivalent word(s) in English. Synonyms of Icelandic words are given in parentheses in the first column. Icelandic words are given for most of the subdisciplines of geology, geophysics, and geochemistry, and related subdisciplines in the geosciences. In most cases the addition of the -ingur suffix to the Icelandic word for a scientific discipline will yield the correct word for the scientist active in that discipline. For example, jarðfræði is the Icelandic word for geology; jarðfræðingur is the Icelandic word for a geologist.

Superscripts (asterisks or numbers) and dashes are used throughout the glossary to assist the reader. A single asterisk (*) signifies a loanword, a word borrowed intact or slightly naturalized from another language. It is either used independently or in a compound word (combined with an Icelandic word). A double asterisk (**) indicates that the plural form is not used in the same context. A triple asterisk (***) signifies that a plural form exists but is not commonly used . In many instances, the plural form exists in a “grammatical” sense but is not necessarily used in a “geological” sense. A dash (-) indicates either that there is no plural form or the plural form is not used - or that there is no singular form or the singular form is not used. All other superscripts are defined in Glossary notes.

Icelandic-English Glossary

Singular Class/Gender Plural
afflæði nn   regression
afrétt(ur) nm afréttir highland pasture(s)
akur nm akrar field(s)
alda nf öldur rounded "smooth" ridge(s), waves(s)
almenn jarðfrædiaf+nf   general or physical geology
andhverfa nf andhverfur anticline(s)
andhverfuás nm andhverfuásar anticlinal axis (es)
apalhraun nn apalhraun aa lava, blocky lava
(gosmöl, gjóska, gosaska, & vikur)
nf  tephra, volcanic ash
askja nf öskjur caldera(s)
glacial outwash
area, sandur
aurkeila nf aurkeilur alluvial fan(s)
austur (1)   nn/ad east
á nf ár river(s), stream(s)
áflæði nn
fluvial sediments
árbugða nf árbugður meander(s)
árset nn árset fluvial deposit(s)
ás nm ásar small ridge(s)
bakki nm bakkar the bank of a brook, stream, river or the sea; the edge of a gjá, the land along the coast or a river; a hill or low lying ridge
basalthraun* nn basalthraun* basaltic lava flows
basískur* (4) am basískir* (4) basic
berg (steinn) nn berg rock(s)
bergásýnd nf bergásýndir facies
nf  petrology
berggangur nm berggangar dike(s)
berggeitill nm berggeitlar laccolith(s)
berggrunnur nm ** bedrock
nn berghlaup rockslide(s)
berghleifur nm berghleifar batholith(s)
bergkvika nf bergkvikur magma
[less common, bergskrið (nn)]
nf bergskriður rockslide(s)
bergsprunga nf bergsprungur tectonic fracture(s), eruption fissure(s)
nf  petrology
bergæð nf bergæðar vein(s)
bjarg nn björg cliff(s), rock(s), crag(s)
blágrýti nn  basalt (fine-grained) (usually Tertiary-age)
borg nf borgir rocky hill(s), city(ies), fortification(s), castle(s)
borhola nf borholur borehole(s)
botn nm botnar bottom, head of a valley or fjord
bólstraberg nn   pillow lava
brekka nf brekkur slope(s)
breksía* (brotaberg) nf breksíur* breccia(s)
brennisteinn nm   sulphur
brennisteinnshver (3) nm brennissteinshverir (3) solfatara(s)
brotaberg nn   breccia
brotakerfi nn brotakerfi fracture systems(s)
bruni nm brunar burning; in the singular form it also means a lava field
brunnur nm brunnar wells(s), spring(s), usually manmade
brú nf brýr bridge(s)
brún nf brúnir edge(s), border(s)
brúnkol (surtarbrandur) nn brúnkol lignite
bunga nf bungur rounded hill(s)
byggð nf byggðir inhabited district(s)
bær nm bæir farm(s), town(s), farmhouse(s), borough(s)
daljökull nm daljöklar valley glacier(s)
dalur nm dalir valley(s), dale(s)
dasít* nn   dacite
nn  dolerite
dílótt storkuberg an+nn  porphyritic igneous rock
djúp nn djúp deep, part of the sea, long inlet
djúpberg nn   plutonic rock
nn   dolerite
drag nn drög shallow or indistinct water course(s)
dragá nf dragár direct run-off river(s)
drangi/drangur nm drangar isolated column(s) or pillars of rock
dyngja nf dyngjur shield volcano(es), lava shield(s), dome(s)
dyngjuhvirfill nm dyngjuhvirflar top of shield volcano(es) or lava shield(s)
dyngjuröð nf dyngjuraðir lava shield row(s)
eftir ísöld (nútími) p+nf   Post-Pleistocene, postglacial, Holocene
eldborg nf eldborgir lava ring(s), lava cone(s)
eldborgaröð nf eldborgaraðir lava cone row(s)
eldfjall (eldstöð) nn eldfjöll volcano(es)
eldgjá nf eldgjár lava fissure(s)
eldgos nf eldgos volcanic eruption(s)
eldhryggur nm eldhryggir stratified ridge(s), composite ridge(s)
eldkeila nf eldkeilur stratovolcano(es), composite cone(s)
eldstöð (eldfjall) nf eldstöðvar volcano(es), eruption crater(s) or site(s)
eldur nm eldar fire(s), volcanic eruption(s)
eldvirkni nf   volcanism, volcanic activity
engi nn engi meadow(s), grassland(s)
ey nf eyjar island(s), isle(s)
eyri nf eyrar sandspit(s), gravel bank(s), delta(s), sand
eystri (1) ad   farther east
falljökull nm falljöklar ice fall(s)
fasajafnvægi nn   phase equilibria
fell nn fell hill(s), mountain(s), generally, but not in all cases, isolated
felling nf fellingar fold(s)
fjall nn fjöll mountain(s)
fjallgarður nm fjallgarðar mountain range(s)
fjalljökull nm fjalljöklar mountian glacier(s)
fjara (strönd) nf fjörur beach(es), ebb, ebb-tide, low water
fjarkönnun nf   remote sensing
fjörður nm firðir fjord(s)
flikruberg nn flikruberg ignimbrite(s), welded ash-flow tuff(s)
flöguberg nn flöguberg shale(s)
flóð nn flóð flood(s)
fljót nn fljót large river(s)
flói nm flóar large bay(s), marsh(es), fens
fokjarðvegur nm   loess
foksandur nm forksandar eolian sand
fornlífsöld nf   Paleozoic Era
fornsegulmagn nn   paleomagnetism
forsögulegur (4) am forsögulegir (4) prehistoric
forsöguleg (4) af forsöguleg (4) prehistoric
forsögulegt (4) an forsöguleg (4) prehistoric
foss nm fossar waterfall(s)
framskrið nn framskrið glacier advance
frumlífsöld nf   Proterozoic Era
gabbró* nn gabbró* gabbro
gangur nm gangar dike(s)
garður nm garðar garden(s), yard(s), dike or low wall of earth or stone
geislasamsæta nf gelslasamsætur radioisotopes
geislasteinn nm geislasteinar zeolite(s)
gervigígur nm gervigígar pseudocrater(s), rootless cone(s)
gil nn gil ravine(s), gorge(s), gully(ies)
gígur nm gígar crater(s)
gjall nn gjall scoria, cinder
gjallgígur nm gjallgígar scoria cone(s)
gjallgígaröð nf gjallgígaraðir scoria cone row(s)
gjallkenndur4 am gjallkenndir scoriaceous
gjallkennd4 af gjallkenndar4 scoriaceous
gjallkennt4 an gjallkennd4 scoriaceous
gjá nf gjár tectonic fissure(s)/chasm(s)/cleft(s)
gjóska (gosmöl/gosaska/aska/vikur) nf gjóskur tephra/pyroclastics [infrequently used]
gjóskuberg nn gjóskuberg tuff (indurated)
gljúfur nn gljúfur rocky ravine(s), canyon(s), gorge(s)
gnípa nf gnípur pinnacle(s), peak(s), mountain summit(s)
gnúpur (núpur/hnjúkur) nm gnúpar peak(s), steep mountain(s)
gos (2) nn gos2 eruption(s) of volcanoes and geysers
gosaska (aska/gosmöl/gjóska/vikur) nf gosöskar tephra, volcanic ash [infrequently used]
gosbelti nn gosbelti volcanic zone(s)
gosberg nn - extrusive (volcanic) rock(s)
goshver (3) nm goshverir (3) geyser
gosketill (askja) nm goskatlar caldera(s)
gosmöl (gjóska/vikur/gosaska/aska) nf - tephra
gossprunga nf gossprungur eruptive fissure(s)
grágrýti (dólerít*/díabas*) nn grágrýti dolerite(s)
granít* nn - granite
granófýr* nn - granophyre
grettistak (grjót) nn grettistök glacial erratic(s)
grjót (grettistak/stórgrýti)
stones/glacial erratic(s)
rocky area
grop nn - porosity
grunn nn grunn shoal(s), shallows
grunnvatn nn grunnvötn ground water
grunnvatnsborð nn grunnvatnsborð groundwater table(s)
grunnvatnsskil nn grunnvatnsskil groundwater divide(s)
grænn (4) am grænir (4) green
græn (4) af grænar (4) green
grænt (4) an græn (4) green
gufa nf gufur steam, vapor(s)
gufuhver (3) nm gufuhverir (3) fumerole(s), solfatara(s), steam vent(s)
haf (sjór) nn höf sea(s), ocean(s)
hafís nm *** sea ice
hagi nm hagar pasture(s)
háhitasvæði (3) nn - high-temperature geothermal area (+200o C. at 1 km depth)
hálendi nn - highlands
halli (jarðlagahalli) nm hallar geologic dip(s)
háls nm hálsar ridge(s)
hamar nm hamrar crag(s), cliff(s), precipice(s), rock(s)
haugur nm haugar hummock(s)
heiði nf heiðar heath(s)
hellir nm hellar cave(s), cavern(s)
helluhraun nn helluhraun pahoehoe lava(s), smooth lava(s)
héað nn héruð region(s), district(s), locality(ies)
hitaveita nf hitaveitur district-heat distribution systems(s) (geothermal)
hjalli nm hjallar terrace(s)
hjarn nn *** firn
hlíð nf hlíðar slope(s), mountainside(s)
hljóðbrot nn hljóðbrot seismic refraction(s)
hljóðhraðamæling nf hljóðhraðamælingar exploration seismology; seismic survey(s)
hljóðspeglun nf hljóðspeglanir seismic reflection(s)
hlýskeið nn hlýskeið interglacial
hnjúkur (núpur/gnúpur) nm hnjúkar peak(s)
hnullungur nm hnullungar cobble(s)/boulder(s)
hnyðlingur nm hnyðlingar xenolith(s)
hnyklaberg nn hnyklaberg pillow lava(s) [infrequently used]
holt nn holt hill(s)/wood(s)-(archaic meaning)
hop nn hop glacier retreat(s) or recession(s)
hóll nm hólar rounded hill(s), hillock(s), knoll(s)
hólmur nm hólmar islet(s)
hóp (lónavötn) nn hóp land-locked inlet(s) still influenced by tides
hrafntinna nf - obsidian
hraun nn hraun lava/lava flow(s), rock avalanche (rarely used; e.g., hrun)
hraundrýli nn hraundrýli hornito(es)
(hraun) flæði nn - effusive lava flows [term only used during an eruption]
hraunhellir nm hraunhellar lava tube(s)
hreppur nm hreppar rural community(ies), districts(s)
hringrás vatnsins nf+nn - hydrologic cycle
hrunskriða (skriður) nf hrunskriður talus
hryggur nm hryggir ridge(s)
hús nn hús house(s), building(s)
hvalbak nn havalbök roche(s) moutonnée(s)
hvammur nm hvammar grassy hollow(s), dell(s)
hvarfleir nm - glacial varve(s)
hver (3) nm hverir (3) hot spring(s) - (boiling or almost boiling water)
hverahrúður nn hverahrúður hot-spring deposit(s)
hverfjall (öskugígur) nn hverfjöll tephra ring(s)
hvítur (4) am hvítir (4) white
hyrna nf hyrnur mountain peak(s) (derived from horn)
hæð nf hæðir height(s)/hill(s)
höfði nm höfðar promontory(ies), cape(s), point(s), headland(s)
höfn nf hafnir harbor(s), port(s)
innri (5) a - inner
innskotsberg nn innskotsberg intrusion(s)
innskotslag nn innskotslög sill(s)
ís (6) nm ísar (6) ice (singular); sea, lake, river ice (plural)
ísöld nf ** Pleistocene Epoch
ísrák (jökulrák) nf ísrákir glacial stria(ae)
ísúr (4) am ísúrir (4) intermediate silica composition (52-65 percent)
jafnskjálftalína nf jafnskjálftalínur isoseism(s)
jarðeðlisfræði nf - geophysics
jarðefnafræði nf - geochemistry
jarðeldasvæði nn jarðeldasvæði volcanic zone(s)
jarðfræði nf ** geology
** nf jarðfræði geosciences
jarðfræðikort nn jarðfræðikort geologic map(s)
jarðgas nn jarðgös natural gas(es)
jarðgrunnskort nn jarðgrunnskort surficial geologic map(s)
jarðgrunnur nm - surficial deposits
jarðhitaleit nf - geothermal exploration
jarðhiti nm - geothermal heat, activity
jarðlag nn jarðlög geologic stratum(a) or rock(s)
jarðlagafræði nf - stratigraphy
jarðlagahalli (halli) nm jarðlagahallar geologic dip(s)
jarðlagastrik (strik) nn jarðlagastrik geologic strikes(s)
jarðmyndun (myndun) nf jarðmyndanir geologic formations
jarðolía nf jarðolíur petroleum (plural: several types of oil)
jarðsaga nf - historical geology
jarðskjálftafræði nf - seismology
jarðskjálftamælir nf jarðskjálftamælar seismograph(s)
jarðskjálfti (landskjálfti) nf jarðskjálftar earthquake(s)
jarðskorpuhreyfing nf jarðskorpuhreyfingar tectonics
jarðskorpa nf - lithosphere, crust
jarðskrið nn jarðskrið solifluction(s)
jarðtrog nn jarðtrog geosyncline(s)
jarðvatn nn - subsurface water
jarðvegur nm - soil(s)
jökulá (jökulsá) nf jökulár glacier river(s)
jökulalda (jökulgarður/jökulurð) nf jökulöldur terminal moraine(s), drumlin(s)
jökulárset nn jökulárset fluvioglacial deposit(s)
jökulberg nn - tillite
jökulbreiða nf jökulbreiður ice sheet(s)
- nf jöklabreytingar (jökulbreytingar) glacier variation
jökuleyðing nf - deglaciation (7)
jökulgap nn - bergschrund
jökulgarður (jökulalda/jökulurð) nm jökulgarðar terminal moraine(s) (moraines)
jökulhetta nf jökulhettur ice cap(s)
jökulhlaup nn jökulhlaup glacier outburst flood(s)
jökulkast nn jökulköst calving(s) of glacier terminus
jökulkemba nf jökulkembur fluted moraine(s)
jökulker nn jökulker ice kettle(s), ice cauldron(s)
jökull nm jöklar glacier(s)
jökulrák (ísrák) nf jökulrákir glacial stria(ae)
jökulruðningur nm jökulruðningar glacial till(s); ground moraine; glacial drift
jökulrönd nf jökulrendur/ jökulrandir margin(s) of a glacier
jökulröst nf jökulrastir ice stream(s)
jökulá (jökulsá) nf jökulár glacier river(s)
jökulskál nf jökulskálar/jökulskálir cirque(s)
jökulskeið nn jökulskeið glacial epoch(s)
jökulsker nn jökulsker nunatak(s)
jökulsprunga nf jökulsprungur glacier crevasse(s)
jökulsvarf nn - glacial abrasion (e.g., fine particles)
jökulsvörfun nf - glacial erosion (the process)
jökultunga nf jökultungur glacier tongue(s)
jökulurð (jökulalda/jökulgarður) nf jökulurðir moraine(s)
jörð nf jarðir earth, soil, Earth, farm(s)
kalkhrúður nn kalkrúður calcium carbonate deposit(s) from a hot spring
kambur nm kambar crest of hill
kaupstaður nm kaupstaðir Icelandic town(s) with a special legal and administrative status: Reykjavík and 22 others
kauptún nn kauptún village(s)
keilugangur nf keilugangar inclined sheet(s) (intrusions), cone sheets
kelda nf keldur pool(s), bottomless pit(s)
ker (sprengigígur) nn ker maar(s)
kirkja nf kirkjur church(es)
kísilgúr nm - diatomite
kísilhrúður nn - silica deposit(s) from a hot spring
kleif nf kleifar very steep slope(s), narrow (steep) passage(s), narrow glen(s) on a mountainside, rock(s), slanted on top
klepragígur nm klepragígar spatter cone(s), scoria cones
klepragígaröð nf klepragígaraðir spatter cone row(s), crater row(s); mixed cone row(s)
klettur nm klettar cliff(s)/crag(s)/rock(s)
klif nn klif very narrow path(s) or passage(s)/ mountain pass(es), steep rock(s)
kol nn kol coal (singular: coil in electric motor)
kornastærð nf kornastæðir grain size(s)
kort (landabréf/landkort/uppdráttur) nn kort map(s)
krókur nm krókar crook/sharp bend/nook/corner or enclosed area hidden from view in the landscape
kubbaberg nn - cube-jointed basalt
kvarter* nn - Quaternary Period
kviksynði nn kviksyndir quagmire(s)
kvikuþró nf kvikuþrær magma chamber(s)
kvísl nf kvíslir river(s), tributary(ies)
lag nn lög layer(s), stratum(a)
lagskipting nf *** stratification
lághitasvæði (3) nn lághitasvæði (3) low-temperature geothermal area(s) (+150o C. at 1 km depth)
land nn lönd land(s) area(s)
landabréf (kort/landkort/uppdráttur) nn landabréf map(s)
landabréfabók nf landabréfabækur atlas(es)
landafræði nf - geography
landkort (kort/landabréf/uppdráttur) nn landkort map(s)
landmæling nf landmælingar geodetic surveying
landmótunarfræði nf - geomorphology
landrek nn - continental drift/plate tectonics
landskjálfti (jarðskjálfti) nm landskjálftar earthquake(s)
laug (3) nf laugar warm spring(s)
leir nm ** clay
leira nf leirur a muddy area, periodically flooded, in rivers or along shores of lakes
leirhver (3) nm leirhverir (3) mudpot, boiling mudpot
leirsteinn nm - mudstone, siltstone
lekt jnf - permeability
leysing nf leysingar ablation
leysingarvatn nn - meltwater
lind nf lindir spring(s)
lindá nf lindár spring-fed river(s)
lindakalk nn - travertine
líparít* (ljósgrýti) nn líparít* rhyolite
ljósgrýti (líparít*) nn ljósgrýtí rhyolite
ljósgrýtistúff* nn ljósgrýtistúff* rhyolitic tuff(s)
loftslag nn - climate
loftsteinn nm loftsteinar meteorite(s)
lón nn lón lagoon(s), inlet(s)
lónavatn (hóp) nn lónavötn land-locked inlet(s) still influenced by tides
lækur nm lækir brook(s)
malarás nm malarásar esker(s)
málmgrýti nn - ore
megineldstöð nf megineldstöðvar central volcano(es)
melur nm melar gravel(s)
miðlífsöld nf - Mesozoic Era
misgengi nn misgengi fault(s)
misgengisstallur nm misgengisstallar fault scarp(s)
mislægi nn mislægi unconformity(ies)
móberg nn - tuff(s)/hyaloclastite(s), palagonite(s)
- nf móbergsbreksíur hyaloclastite breccia
móbergshryggur nm móbergshryggir hyaloclastite/palagonite ridges(s)
móbergsmyndun nf móbergsmyndanir palagonite formation(s)
móbergsset nn móbergsset tuffaceous sediment(s)
móbergsstapi (stapi) nm móbergsstapar table mountain(s)
móbergsþursi nm - palagonitic breccia
múli nm múlar low, rounded mountain(s), headland(s)
myndbreyting nf myndbreytingar metamorphism
myndbreytt berg an+nn mydnbreytt berg metamorphic rock(s)
myndun (jarðmyndun) nf myndanir geologic formation(s)
mynni nn mynni mouth(s), outlet(s)
mýri nf mýrar bog(s), mire(s)
mælikvarði nm mælikvarðar scale(s)
möl nf - gravel(s), pebble(s)
náma nf námur quarry(ies), pit(s), mine(s)
náttúrlegt umhverfi an +nn natturleg umhverfi natural environment(s)
nes (skagi) nn nes peninsula(s), headland(s), point(s), cape(s)
norður1 nn/ad - north
núpur (hnjúkur/gnúpur) nm núpar peak(s)
nútími (eftir ísöld) nm - Holocene or Recent Epoch
nyrðri1 a - northern
nýlífsöld nf - Cenozoic Era
oddi nm oddar promontory(ies), point(s), tongue(s) of land
ós nm ósar mouth(s) of a riverstuary(ies)
óseyri nf óseyrar delta(s)
perlusteinn nm - perlite
rafsegulmæling nf rafsegulmælingar electromagnetic survey(s)
rauður4 am rauðir4 red
rekbelti nn rekbelti rift zone(s)
rétt segulmögnun an+nn - normal polarity
reykur nm reykir smoke, steam
rif nn rif reef(s), bank(s)
rishryggur nm rishryggir horst(s)
rof nn rof denudation
rofabarð nn rofabörð soil patch(es)
rúst nf rústir palsa(en), ruin(s)
rönd á
á skriðjökli
medial moraine(s)
röst nf rastir strong ocean (tidal) current(s)
samhverfa nf samhverfur syncline(s)
samhverfuás nm samhverfuásar synclinal axis(es)
samsætuhlutfall nn samsætuhlutföll isotopic ratio(s)
sandalda nf sandöldur dune(s)
sandsteinn nm - sandstone
sandur nm sandar (aurar) sand, area(s) of sand, glacial outwash plain(s)
segulmagn nn - magnetic polarity
segulmæling nf segulmælingar geomagnetic survey(s)
set nn set sediment(s)
setberg nn - sedimentary rocks
setlag nn setlög sedimentary deposit(s), clastic sediment(s)
setmyndun nf setmyndanir sedimentation
sífreri nm - permafrost
sigdalur/sigdæld nf sigdalir/sigdældir graben(s)
siggengi nn siggengi normal fault(s)
sigketill nm sigkatlar collapse cauldron(s) on a glacier or a volcano
sjávarrof nn - wave abrasion or erosion
sjór (haf) nm sjóir sea(s), ocean(s), seawater, waves or breakers [sjóir (large waves)]
skagi (nes) nm skagar peninsula(s); headland(s), cape(s)
skarð nn skörð mountain pass(es)
skálarjökull nm skálarjöklar cirque glacier(s)
sker nn sker skerry(ies)
- nn skil geologic contact(s)
skjálftamiðja nf skjálftamiðjur epicenter(s)
** nf skjálftaupptök hypocenter
skjálftavirkni nf - seismicity
skógur nm skógar wood(s), forest(s)
skriðjökull nm skriðjöklar outlet glacier(s), valley glacier(s)
skriðuhlaup (bergskrið/berghlaup) nn skriðuhlaup rock avalanche(s)
skriða (hrunskriða) nm skriður talus
skriðukeila nf skriðukeilur alluvial cone(s)
slétta nf sléttur plain(s), field(s), an area of level ground
trace element distribution(s)
sniðgengi nn sniðgengi strike-slip fault(s)
snjóflóð (skjóskriða) nn snjóflóð snow avalanche(s)
snjór (8) nm snjóar (8) snow/lots of snow, layers of snow, snowfall(s)
snjóskriða (snjoflód) nf snjóskriður snow avalanche(s)
snælína nf snælínur snow line(s)
snær (8) nm - snow
sprengigígaröð (öskugíraröð) nm sprengígaraðir tephra ring row(s)
sprengigígur (ker) nm sprengigígar maar(s)
sprengigjá nf sprengigjár explosion fissure(s), maar row(s)
explosion chasm(s)sprunga nf sprungur fissure(s), crack(s), fracture(s)
staður nm staðir place(s), spot(s)
stapi (móbergsstapi) nm stapar rocky hill(s), bluff(s), table mountain(s)
steinafræði nf - mineralogy
steingervingafræði nf - paleontology
steingervingur nm steingervingar fossil(s)
steinn (berg) nm steinar stone(s), rock(s)
steind nf steindir mineral(s)
steintegund nf steintegundir rock type(s)
stórgrýti nn stórgrýti large rock(s), boulder(s)
storkuberg nn storkuberg igneous rock(s)
strandlína nf strandlínur raised beach(es), coastline(s), terrace(s)
strik (jarðlagastrik) nn strik geologic strike
strönd (fjara) nf strendur/strandir coast(s), shore(s), beache(es), strand(s)
stöð nf stöðvar station(s)
stöðug samsæta af+
stable isotopes
suða nf suður boiling(s); suður is infrequently used
suður (1) nn/ad - south
súr(4) am súrir(4) acidic (more than 65 percent SiO2) rocks (also applies to pH of liquids)
surtarbrandur (brúnkol) nm - lignite
svartur (4) am svartir (4) black
sveit nf sveitir countryside, rural district(s)
svæði nn svæði area(s), place(s), region(s), tract(s) of land
svörfun nf - erosion
syðri (1) a - southern
sýsla nf sýslur county(ies)
sæluhús nn sæluhús hut(s), emergency hut(s)
tangi nm tangar narrow peninsula(s), promontory(ies), point(s) of land
tertíer* nn - Tertiary Period
tímabil nn tímabil period(s)
tindur nm tindar pinnacle(s), summit(s)
tjörn nf tjarnir small lake(s); pond(s); pool(s); tarn(s)
tunga nf tungur tongue(s) of land usually between several rivers
tún nn tún fertilized farm field(s)
undir jökli p+nm undir jöklum subglacial, beneath glaciers
uppblástur (vindrof) nm - denudation, wind erosion
uppdráttur (kort/landkort/landabréf) nm uppdrættir map(s)
upphafsöld nf - Archeozoic Era
útkulnaður4 am útkulnaðir4 inactive, extinct
vað nn vöð ford(s)
varða nf vörður cairn(s)
vatn nn vötn lake(s)/water
vatnafræði nf - hydrology
vatnaset nn vatnaset alluvium
vatnaskil nn vatnaskil water divide(s)
vatnasvið nn vatnasvið drainage basin(s)
- water equivalent of snow
vatnshver (3) nm vatnshverir (3) hot spring(s)
veðrun nf   weathering
veður nn   weather
vegur nm vegir road(s), path(s), way(s), route(s)
ver nn ver wet area(s), highland bog(s), nesting area(s), fishing station(s) or place(s)
vestur (1) nn/ad   western
viðnámsmæling nf viðsnámsmælingar electrical resistance measurement(s)/survey(s)
vikur (aska/gosmöl/gjóska/gosaska) nn vikrar pumice, lapilli, pumice flats or pumice-covered area(s)
vík nf víkur bay(s), cove(s), creek(s)
vindrof (uppblástur) nn vindrof deflation
virkur4 am virkir4 active
viti nm vitar lighthouse(s)
víti nn víti hell / also used for explosive volcanic craters or maars
vogur nm vogar inlet(s), cove(s), creek(s)
volgra (3) nf volgrur (3) lukewarm spring(s)
völlur nm vellir field(s), plain(s)
völuberg nn  conglomerate
yfirborðslag nn yfirborðslög surficial layer(s)
yfirborðsvatn nn  surface water
ytri (5) am ytri (5) outer
ytri (5) af ytri (5) outer
ytra (5) an ytru (5) outer
þelaurð nf þelaurðir rock glacier(s)
þing nn þing meeting(s), parliament(s)
þorp nn þorp village(s)
þúfa nf þúfur frost mound(s), small hillock(s), mound(s), knoll(s)
þursaberg nn þursaberg breccia
þyngdarafl jarðar nn+nf   gravity
þyngdarmæling nf þyngdarmælingar gravity survey(s)
öfugt segulmagn an+nn - reverse polarity
ölkelda nf ölkeldur cold, carbon dioxide spring(s)
- nm öræfi wasteland, desert, wilderness
öskufall nn - tephra fall
öskugígaröð (sprengigígaröð) nf öskugígaraðir tephra ring row(s)
öskulagatímatal nn öskulagatímatöl tephrochronology(ies)
öskugígur (hverfjall) nm öskugígar tephra ring(s)
öxi (9) nf axir (9) axe(s)

Glossary Notes

1. Austur (east), vestur (west), norður (north), and suður (south) can be nouns (neuter) as well as adverbs; it all depends on the context in which they are used. As in English, the above adverbial form is the positive one; they also exist as adjectives in the comparative and superlative forms:

Positive (Adv.) Comparative (Adj.) Superlative (Adj.)

austur eystri or austari austastur

vestur vestri or vestari vestastur

norður nyrðri or norðari nyrstur

suður syðri syðstur

2. Gos is also used in the vernacular as an abbreviation for gosdrykkur, the Icelandic word for soda pop or a soft drink.

3. Geothermal activity in Iceland is divided into two types of areas on the basis of water temperature at a depth of 1 kilometer: (1) háhitasvæði (high-temperature areas (+200oC)) which have leirhverir or brennissteinshverir (solfataras), gufuhverir (fumeroles), goshverir (geysers), etc.; and lághitasvæði (low-temperature areas (+150oC)) which have a variety of types of vatnshverir (springs), such as hverir (hot springs; >70oC), laugar (warm springs; 30oC-70oC), and volgrur (lukewarm springs; <30oC). The distinction between hver and laug is not based solely on the water temperature; it varies throughout Iceland, depending on what is considered to be “warm” or “hot” in each district.

4. Adjectives usually have different forms in the singular and plural of masculine, feminine, and neuter grammatical genders; for example, the word green:

Singular Plural

masculine grænn grænir

feminine græn grænar

neuter grænt græn

5. Inner in Icelandic only exists as comparative (innri) and superlative (innstur) adjectives; the same holds true for outer, with ytri the comparative and ystur the superlative form of the adjective.

6. Ís is also used in the vernacular as the Icelandic word for ice cream; in the plural (ísar) it means ice cream cones, but it can also mean ice from a meteorological standpoint.

7. Deglaciation can also be expressed as eyðing jökla.

8. Snjór (snow) is a masculine noun which has very irregular declensions, including multiple spelling variations within the singular cases:

singular: nominative snjór, snær, snjár

accusative snjó, snæ, snjá

dative snjó, snæ (vi), snjá (vi)

genitive snjós/snjóar, snævar, snjávar, snjóvar

plural: nominative snjóar

accusative snjóa

dative snjóum

genitive snjóa

9. Axar (ax) is the form of the genitive case or declension; for example, Axarfjörður.

Glossary sources

The Icelandic-English Glossary of Selected Geoscience Terms was derived from a variety of publications. In addition, I would like to give special acknowledgement to fifteen Icelandic geoscientists who critically reviewed the glossary and accompanying text and who also recommended terms for inclusion in the glossary: Helgi Björnsson, geophysicist (glaciology) and Professor, University of Oslo (Norway); Páll Einarsson, geophysicist (seismology); and Leó Kristjánsson, geophysicist (geomagnetism) - Science Institute, University of Iceland; Gylfi Már Guðbergsson, geographer (land use/botany); and Sigurður Steinþórsson, geologist (petrology), all professors in the Department of Geosciences, University of Iceland; Karl Grönvold, geologist (petrology); and Guðrun Larsen, geologist (tephrochronology) - Nordic Volcanological Institute, University of Iceland; Haukur Tómasson, geologist (regional geology) - Icelandic Museum of Natural History; the late Sigurjón Rist, hydrologist (surface water/glaciology); Jón Jónsson, geologist (regional geology); Kristján Sæmundsson, geologist (regional geology); Guðmundur Pálmason, geophysicist (heat flow); Oddur Sigurðsson, glaciologist; and Helgi Torfason, geologist (regional geology) - Icelandic Natural Energy Authority; Jón Benjamínsson, geologist - Icelandic National Center for Hygiene, Food Quality, and Environmental Protection; and and Haraldur Sigurðsson, geologist (volcanology/marine geology) - School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island; and the late U.S. Icelandic language scholar, John G. Allee, Jr., Professor Emeritus, Department of English, George Washington University. I am especially grateful to my very good friend and colleague, Gylfi Már Guðbergsson, for his superb comprehensive (and educational) review of the glossary and for his extraordinary patience in trying, for nearly three decades, to teach me the fascinating idiosyncracies of the Icelandic language.

The following were the principal published sources used to compile the glossary:

Armstrong, T.E., Roberts, B.B., and Swithinbank, C.W.M., 1973, Illustrated glossary of snow and ice: Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, 60 p.

Arngrímur Sigurðsson, 1975, Íslensk-ensk orðabók: Prentsmiðjan Leiftur, Reykjavík, 942 p.

Árni Böðvarsson, editor, 1985, Íslensk orðabók (handa skólum og almenningi): Bókaútgáfa Menningarsjóðs, Reykjavík, 1263 p.

Barth, T.F.W., 1950, Volcanic geology, hot springs, and geysers of Iceland: Carnegie Institution of Washington, Publication 587, Washington, D.C., 175 p.

Einar B. Pálsson, editor, 1983, Orðanefnd byggingarverkfræðinga: Orðasafn um fráveitur [Section 1]: Tímarit Verkfræðingafélags Íslands, v. 68, no. 6, p. 98-101.

Einar B. Pálsson, editor, 1984, Orðanefnd byggingarverkfræðinga: Orðasafn um fráveitur [Sections 2 and 3]: Tímarit Verkfræðingafélags Íslands, v. 69, no. 2-4, p. 5-8.

Escritt, Tony, 1985, Iceland. A handbook for expeditions: London, the Iceland Information Centre, Ltd., 243 p.

Gylfi Már Guðbergsson, 1984, Landafræði: 1 hefti, Almenn landafræði Ísland, Námsgagnastofnun, Reykjavík, 160 p.

Hálfdánarson, Örlygur, 1981, Iceland road guide: Örn og Örlygur hf., Travel Books, third edition, Reykjavík, 440 p.

Haukur Jóhannesson, 1980, Jarðlagaskipan og þróun rekbelta á Vesturlandi: Náttúrufræðingurinn, v. 50, no. 1, p. 13-31.

Ingibjörg Kaldal and Skúli Víkingsson, 1979, Jökulsár í Skagafirði; II, jarðgrunnskort: Orkustofnun, Raforkudeild Report No. OS79044/ROD16, October, Reykjavík, 3 sheets; scale, 1:50, 000.

Jóhannesson, Haukur, Jakobsson, Sveinn P., and Sæmundsson, Kristján, compilers, 1982, South Iceland: Sheet 6 in the Geological Map of Iceland series; scale, 1:250, 000, Icelandic Museum of Natural History-Iceland Geodetic Survey, Reykjavík.

Jón Benjamínsson, 1992, Orðaskrá í jarðfræði og skyldum greinum: Reykjavík, útgefandi, Jón Benjamínsson, 191 p.

Jón Eyþórsson, 1963, Orðasafn (Helztu heiti á ís og snjó á landi): Jökull, v. 13, p. 24-28.

Jón Eyþórsson, 1964, Orðasafn (Helztu heiti á hafísum): Jökull, v. 14, p. 90-94.

Kidson, Peter, 1966, Iceland. A traveller's guide: Ferðahandbækur s/f, Reykjavík, 216 p.

Kidson, Peter, 1971, Iceland in a nutshell. Complete reference guide: Iceland Travel Books, Reykjavík, 240 p.

Kjartansson, Guðmundur, compiler, 1960, South-West Iceland: Sheet 3 in the Geological Map of Iceland series; scale, 1:250, 000, Museum of Natural History, Department of Geology and Geography; Distributed by the Iceland Geodetic Survey, Reykjavík.

Landmælingar Íslands, n. d. (1980?), Vogar, Iceland-Ísland: Fjórðungsblöðin series, Sheet No. 1512-I; scale, 1:50, 000. Also published by the U.S. Defense Mapping Agency's Hydrographic/Topographic Center in A.M.S. Series C761.

Preusser, Hubertus, 1976, The landscapes of Iceland: Types and regions: Dr. W. Junk

b. v., Publishers, The Hague, 363 p.

Rannsóknastofnun landbúnaðarins, 1968, Hafnir, Gullbringusýsla: Sheet 75 in the Vegetation Map of Iceland series; scale, 1:40, 000, Agricultural Research Institute- Iceland Geodetic Survey, Reykjavík.

Schutzbach, Werner, 1976, Island. Feuerinsel am Polarkreis: Ferdinand Dümmlers Verlag, Bonn, 269 p.

Schutzbach, Werner, 1985, Island. Feuerinsel am Polarkreis: second edition, Ferdinand Dümmlers Verlag, Bonn, 272 p.

Sigbjarnarson, Guttormur, Albertsson, Kristinn, and Einarsson, Kristinn, n. d., Geological Map of Krepputunga og Brúardalir: National Energy Authority, Electrical Power Division; scale, 1:83, 333. Reykjavík.

Sigurður Örn Bogason, 1972, Ensk-íslenzk orðabók: Ísafoldarprentsmiðja hf., Reykjavík, 862 p.

Sæmundsson, Kristján, compiler, 1977, North East Iceland: Sheet 7 in the Geological Map of Iceland series; scale, 1:250, 000, Museum of Natuaral History-Iceland Geodetic Survey, Reykjavík.

Sören Sörenson, 1984, Ensk-íslensk orðabók (með alfræðilegu ívafi): Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík, 1241 p.

Thorarinsson, Sigurður, and Sæmundsson, Kristján, 1980, Volcanic activity in historial time: Jökull, v. 29 (1979), p. 29-32.

Thorarinsson, Sigurður, editor, Einarsson, Trausti, and Kjartansson, Gudmundur, 1959, On the geology and geomorphology of Iceland: Geografiska Annaler, v. 41, no. 2-3, p. 135-169.

Tómas Tryggvason and Jón Jónsson, 1958, Jarðfræðikort af nágrenni Reykjavíkur: Iðnaðardeildar Atvinnudeildar Háskólans og Skrifstofu bæjarverkfræðings; scale, 1:40, 000, Reykjavík.

Wood, C. A., Whitford-Stark, J. L., and Head, J.W., compilers, n. d., Iceland field itinerary: Basaltic Volcanism Study Project, Team 5, Distribution and Morphology of Basalt Deposits on Planets; Planetary Geology Group, Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Lunar Science Institute, 55 p.

Þórhallur Vilmundarson, editor, 1980, Grímnir (Rit um nafnfræði): Örnefnastofnun Þjóðminjasafns, Reykjavík, v. 1, 143 p.

Þórhallur Vilmundarson, editor, 1983, Grímnir (Rit um nafnfræði): Örnefnastofnun Þjóðminjasafns, Reykjavík, v. 2, 144 p.

Þorleifur Einarsson, 1968, Jarðfræði. Saga bergs og lands: Mál og menning, Reykjavík, 335 p.

Þorleifur Einarsson, 1973, Jarðfræði: Heimskringla, Reykjavík, 254 p.

Þorsteinn Jósepsson and Steindór Steindórsson, 1981, Landið þitt. Ísland: v. 2 (H-K), Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík, 288 p.

Þorsteinn Jósepsson and Steindór Steindórsson, 1983, Landið þitt. Ísland: v. 4 (S-T), Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík, 280 p.

Þorsteinn Jósepsson and Steindór Steindórsson, 1984, Landið þitt. Ísland: v. 1 (A-G), Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík, 278 p.

Þorsteinn Jósepsson, Steindór Steindórsson, and Páll Líndal, 1982, Landið þitt. Ísland: v. 3 (L-R), Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík, 340 p.

Þorsteinn Jósepsson, Steindór Steindórsson, Björn Þorsteinsson, og Guðjón Ármann Eyjólfsson, 1984, Landið þitt. Ísland: v. 5 (U-O), Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík, 271 p.

Þorsteinn Jósepsson, Steindór Steindórsson, and Einar Laxness, 1985, Landið þitt. Ísland: Lykilbók, Örn og Örlygur hf., Reykjavík, 416 p.


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