Aleutian Islands (Aleut: Tanam Unangaa, literally "Land of the
Aleuts"; pronounced (/əˈluːʃən/; possibly from Chukchi
aliat, "island") are a chain of 14 large volcanic islands and 55
smaller ones belonging to both the
U.S. state of
Alaska and the
Russian federal subject of Kamchatka Krai. They form part of the
Aleutian Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean, occupying an area of 6,821
sq mi (17,666 km2) and extending about 1,200 mi
(1,900 km) westward from the
Alaska Peninsula toward the
Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, and mark a dividing line between the
Bering Sea to the north and the
Pacific Ocean to the south. Crossing
longitude 180°, at which point east and west longitude end, the
archipelago contains both the westernmost part of the
United States by
longitude (Amatignak Island) and the easternmost by longitude
(Semisopochnoi Island). The westernmost U.S. island in real terms,
however, is Attu Island, west of which runs the International Date
Line. While nearly all the archipelago is part of
Alaska and is
usually considered as being in the "Alaskan Bush", at the extreme
western end, the small, geologically related
Commander Islands belong
The islands, with their 57 volcanoes, form the northernmost part of
the Pacific Ring of Fire. Physiographically, they are a distinct
section of the larger Pacific Border province, which in turn is part
of the larger Pacific Mountain System physiographic division.
These Islands are most known for the battles and skirmishes that
occurred there during the
Aleutian Islands Campaign
Aleutian Islands Campaign of World War II.
It was one of only two attacks on the
United States during that war.
8.2 Russian period
8.2.1 Orthodox Christian heritage
8.3 U.S. possession
8.3.1 World War II
8.4 Recent developments
9 Nuclear testing
10 Russian Aleutians
11 See also
13 Further reading
14 External links
Unalaska Island in the Aleutian Islands.
Aleutian Islands from 32,000 feet (9,700 m).
Active Aleutian volcanoes.
The islands, known before 1867 as the Catherine Archipelago, comprise
five groups (east to west)
Islands of Four Mountains
Rat Islands, and
All five are located between 51° and 55° N latitude and 172° E and
163° W longitude. The largest islands in the Aleutians are Attu
(the farthest from the mainland), and Unalaska, Umnak, and Unimak in
Fox Islands. The largest of those is Unimak Island, with an area
of 1,571.41 mi² (4,069.9 km²), followed by Unalaska
Island, the only other Aleutian
Island with an area over 1,000 square
miles (2,600 km²).
The axis of the archipelago near the mainland of
Alaska has a
southwest trend, but near 179° its direction changes to the
northwest. This change of direction corresponds to a curve in the line
of volcanic fissures that have contributed their products to the
building of the islands. Such curved chains are repeated about the
Pacific Ocean in the Kuril Islands, the Japanese chain, and in the
Philippines. All these island arcs are at the edge of the Pacific
Plate and experience much seismic activity, but are still habitable;
the Aleutians lie between the Pacific and North American tectonic
plates. The general elevation is greatest in the
eastern islands and least in the western. The island chain is a
western continuation of the
Aleutian Range on the mainland.
The great majority of the islands bear evident marks of volcanic
origin, and there are numerous volcanic cones on the north side of the
chain, some of them active; many of the islands, however, are not
wholly volcanic, but contain crystalline or sedimentary rocks, and
also amber and beds of lignite. The coasts are rocky and surf-worn,
and the approaches are exceedingly dangerous, the land rising
immediately from the coasts to steep, bold mountains.
These volcanic islands reach heights of 6,200 feet (1,900 m).
Volcano (5,691 feet (1,735 m)) located on Unalaska
Island, is not quite visible from within the town of Unalaska, though
the steam rising from its cone is visible on a (rare) clear day.
Residents of Unalaska need only to climb one of the smaller hills in
the area, such as Pyramid Peak or Mt. Newhall, to get a good look at
the snow-covered cone. The volcanic Bogoslof and Fire Islands, which
rose from the sea in 1796 and 1883 respectively, lie about 30 miles
(50 km) west of Unalaska Bay.
In 1906, a new volcanic cone rose between the islets of Bogoslof and
Grewingk, near Unalaska, followed by another in 1907. These cones were
nearly demolished by an explosive eruption on September 1, 1907.
Newly found information in 2017, the volcanic cone erupted sending ash
and ice particles 30,000 feet (9000 m) in the air.
The Aleutians seen from space
Image of the islands taken by the
These cloud formations were seen over the western Aleutian Islands.
ASTER image of the islands.
Aleutian Islands on May 15, 2014, by NASA’s Aqua satellite.
The climate of the islands is oceanic, with moderate and fairly
uniform temperatures and heavy rainfall. Fogs are almost constant.
Summer weather is much cooler than Southeast
Alaska (around Sitka),
but the winter temperature of the islands and of the
is very nearly the same. During the winter the islands are the
center for the semi-permanent low-pressure area called the Aleutian
The mean annual temperature for Unalaska, the most populated island of
the group, is about 38 °F (3 °C), being about 30 °F
(−1 °C) in January and about 52 °F (11 °C) in
August. The highest and lowest temperatures recorded on the islands
are 78 °F (26 °C) and 5 °F (−15 °C)
respectively. The average annual rainfall is about 80 inches
(2,000 mm), and Unalaska, with about 250 rainy days per year, is
said to be one of the rainiest places within the U.S.
Cape Promontory, Cape Lutkes on
Unimak Island in the Aleutian Islands,
The growing season lasts approximately 135 days, from early in May
until late in September, but agriculture is limited to the raising of
few vegetables. With the exception of some stunted willows, the vast
majority of the chain is devoid of native trees. On some of the
islands, such as Adak and Amaknak, there are a few coniferous trees
growing, remnants of the Russian period. While tall trees grow in many
cold climates, Aleutian conifers — some estimated to be two
hundred years old — rarely reach a height of even 10 feet
(3 m), and many of them are still less than 5 feet (1.5 m)
tall. This is because the islands, much like the Falklands and other
islands of similar latitudes, experience such strong winds that taller
trees are vulnerable to snapping off.
Instead of trees, the islands are covered with a luxuriant, dense
growth of herbage and shrubs, including crowberry, bluejoint, grasses,
sedges, and many flowering plants. There are areas of peat bog near
the coasts. Endemic plants include the endangered Aleutian shield
The Aleutians are home to many large colonies of seabirds. Buldir
Island has 21 breeding seabird species, including the Bering
Sea-endemic red-legged kittiwake. Large seabird colonies are also
present at Kiska, Gareloi, Semisopochnoi, Bogoslof, and others. The
islands are also frequented by vagrant Asiatic birds, including the
common rosefinch, Siberian rubythroat, bluethroat, lanceolated
warbler, and the first North American record of the intermediate
The habitats of the Aleutians are largely unspoiled, but wildlife is
affected by competition from introduced species such as cattle,
caribou, and foxes. Nearly all of the Aleutians are protected as part
Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the Aleutian
Observations have identified sea otters as a keystone species along
the coasts of many of the Aleutian Islands. Their presence encourages
the growth of kelp forests, as the otters control sea urchin
populations (as large populations of sea urchins can create urchin
barrens by clearing away kelp stands).
On the less mountainous islands, the raising of sheep and reindeer was
once believed to be practicable. There are bison on islands near
Sand Point. Sheep raising seems to have died off with the advent of
synthetic fibers, which lowered the value of wool. During the 1980s,
there were some llama being raised on Unalaska. The current economy is
primarily based on fishing, and the presence of U.S. military. The
only crop is potato. Chickens are raised in barns under protection
from the cold.
In addition to a partial air service and a ferry service, the Alaska
Marine Highway passes through many of the U.S. islands.
The native people refer to themselves as Unangan, and are now
generally known by most non-natives as the "Aleut". The
is one of the two main branches of the Eskimo–
Aleut language family.
This family is not known to be related to any others. The 2000 U.S.
Census recorded a population of 8,162 on the islands, of whom 4,283
were living in the main settlement of Unalaska.
Because of the location of the islands, stretching like a broken
bridge from Asia to America, many anthropologists believe they were a
route of the first human occupants of the Americas. The earliest known
evidence of human occupation in the Americas is much farther south;
the early human sites in
Alaska have probably been submerged by rising
waters during the current interglacial period. People living in the
Aleutian Islands developed fine skills in hunting, fishing, and
basketry. Hunters made their weapons and watercraft. The baskets are
noted for being finely woven with carefully shredded stalks of beach
Explorers, traders and missionaries arrived from
Russia beginning in
In 1741, the Russian government sent Vitus Bering, a Dane in the
service of Russia, and Aleksei Chirikov, a Russian, in the ships Saint
Peter and Saint Paul on a voyage of discovery in the Northern Pacific.
After the ships were separated by a storm; Chirikov discovered several
eastern islands of the Aleutian group, and Bering discovered several
of the western islands. Bering was shipwrecked and lost his life in
the Komandorski Islands (Commander Islands), one of which now bears
his name (Bering Island). The survivors of Bering's party reached the
Kamchatka Peninsula in a boat constructed from the wreckage of their
ship, and reported that the islands were rich in fur-bearing
Siberian fur hunters flocked to the
Commander Islands and gradually
moved eastward across the
Aleutian Islands to the mainland. In this
Russia gained a foothold on the northwestern coast of North
Aleutian Islands consequently belonged to Russia, until
that country transferred all its possessions in North America to the
U.S. in 1867.
During the consolidation of the Russian-American Company there was
sporadic conflict with the native population (frequently disastrous to
the poorly armed and vastly outnumbered Russians). The colonies soon
entered a relatively stable state based on cooperation, intermarriage,
and official policies that provided social status, education, and
professional training to children of mixed Aleut-Russian birth.
Within a generation, the day-to-day administration of the
Russian-American colonies was largely in the hands of native-born
Alaskans. Reversing the usual trend in colonization where indigenous
technologies are replaced, the Russians adopted the
Aleut kayak, or
baidarka, sea otter hunting techniques, and the working of native
copper deposits. The Russians instituted public education,
preservation of the
Aleut language through transliteration of
religious and other texts into
Aleut via an adaptation of the Cyrillic
alphabet, vaccination of the native population against smallpox, and
science-based sea mammal conservation policies that were ahead of
By 1760, the Russian merchant Andrian Tolstykh had made a detailed
census in the vicinity of Adak and extended Russian citizenship to the
During his third and last voyage in 1778, Captain
James Cook surveyed
the eastern portion of the Aleutian archipelago, accurately determined
the position of some of the more important islands, and corrected many
errors of former navigators.
Orthodox Christian heritage
Among the first Christian missionaries to arrive in the Aleutian
Islands was a party of ten Russian Orthodox monks and priests, who
arrived in 1793. Within two years, a monk named Herman was the only
survivor of that party. He settled on Spruce Island, near Kodiak
Island, and often defended the rights of the Aleuts against the
Russian trading companies. He is now known in the Orthodox Church as
Saint Herman of Alaska.
Another early Christian missionary of the
Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church was
Father Veniaminov who arrived in Unalaska in 1824. He was named Bishop
Innokentii in 1840 and moved to Sitka. He is now known in the Orthodox
Church as Saint Innocent of Alaska.
The principal settlements were on Unalaska Island. The oldest was
Iliuliuk (also called Unalaska), settled in 1760–1775, with a
customs house and an Orthodox church.
After the American purchase of
Russia in 1867, further
development took place. New buildings included a Methodist mission and
orphanage, and the headquarters for a considerable fleet of United
States revenue cutters, which patrolled the sealing grounds of the
Pribilof Islands. The first public school in Unalaska opened in
The U.S. Congress extended American citizenship to all Native
Americans (and this law has been held to include the indigenous
peoples of Alaska) in 1924. A hospital was built in Unalaska in 1933
by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
World War II
Aleutian Islands Campaign
During World War II, small parts of the Aleutian islands were occupied
by Japanese forces, when Attu and
Kiska were invaded in order to
divert American forces away from the main Japanese attack at Midway
Atoll. The U.S. Navy, having broken the Japanese naval codes, knew
that this was just a diversion disputed, and it did not expend large
amounts of effort in defending the islands. More than 90 Americans
were taken to
Japan as prisoners of war. Most of the civilian
population (over 800) of the Aleutians and Pribilovians was detained
United States in camps in the
Alaska Panhandle. During the
Aleutian Islands Campaign, American forces invaded Japanese-held Attu
and defeated the Japanese. American and Canadian troops later launched
an invasion of Kiska, but Japanese forces had already withdrawn,
ending the campaign in the islands.
June 3, 2002 was celebrated as Dutch Harbor Remembrance Day. The
Alaska ordered state flags lowered to half-staff to honor
the 78 soldiers who died during the two-day Japanese air attack in
1942. The Aleutian
World War II
World War II National Historic Area Visitors Center
opened that month.
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act became law in 1971. In 1977,
the Ounalashka Corporation (from Unalaska) declared a dividend. This
was the first village corporation to declare and pay a dividend to its
Main article: Amchitka
The U.S. conducted underground tests of nuclear weapons on Amchitka
Island from 1965 to 1971 as part of the
Vela Uniform program. The
final detonation, the Cannikin, was the largest underground nuclear
explosion by the U.S.
Main article: Aleutsky District
Russian Aleutians is organized as
Aleutsky District in Kamchatka Krai.
Sea Lion Rock
Sea Otter Rocks
Tufted Puffin Rock (Kamen Toporkov or Ostrov Toporkov)
Aleutian Islands earthquake
Aleutian Islands earthquake
Aleutian Islands Campaign
Aleutians East Borough, Alaska
Aleutians West Census Area, Alaska
List of Aleutian
List of Aleutian Islands
List of birds of Aleutian Islands
List of extreme points of the United States
Lists of islands
Maritime fur trade
Military history of the Aleutian Islands
Peter the Aleut
Western Aleutian Islands, from a 1916 map of the
^ a b The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (18 December 2015).
"Aleutian Islands". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 6 February
^ "Aleutian Islands". Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Inc. Retrieved
14 February 2016.
Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House. Retrieved
^ i.e. east of 172° E and west of 163° W longitude, straddling the
^ a b c d e f g h i j k One or more of the preceding
sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public
domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aleutian Islands".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
Alaska volcano erupts again, sending up another ash cloud". Fox
News. 2017-01-26. Retrieved 2017-01-27.
^ a b Chisholm 1911.
^ "Aleutian Islands". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife
^ Estes, James (2016). Serendipity: An Ecologist's Quest to Understand
Nature. University of California Press.
^ a b THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER 2008 — Page 9
Gibson, Daniel D., and G. Vernon Byrd. Birds of the Aleutian Islands,
Alaska. Cambridge, Mass: Nuttall Ornithological Club, 2007.
Ivanov, Viacheslav Vsevolodovich. The
Russian Orthodox Church
Russian Orthodox Church of
Alaska and the
Aleutian Islands and Its Relation to Native American
Traditions—An Attempt at a Multicultural Society, 1794–1912.
Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1997. ISBN 0-16-048781-1
Jochelson, Waldemar. Archaeological Investigations in the Aleutian
Islands. Washington: Carnegie Institution of Washington, 1925.
Morgan, Lael (September 1983). "The Aleutians: Alaska's Far-out
Islands". National Geographic. Vol. 164 no. 3.
pp. 336–363. ISSN 0027-9358. OCLC 643483454.
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Aleutian Islands.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Aleutian Islands.
U.S. Coast Pilot 9, Chapter 7, Aleutian Islands
U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Aleutian
Seattle to Aleutian
Islands in the Bering Sea
Sea Lion Rock
Sea Otter Rocks
Walrus and Kritskoi
State of Alaska
Fairbanks North Star
Lake and Peninsula
Prince of Wales–Hyder
Coordinates: 52°05′49″N 173°30′02″W / 52.09694°N
173.50056°W / 52.09694; -173.50056