Aleutian Islands (possibly from Chukchi aliat, "island") are a chain of more than 300 small volcanic
islands forming part of the Aleutian
Arc in the Northern Pacific Ocean, occupying an area of 6,821 sq mi (17,666 km²)
and extending about westward from the Alaska Peninsula toward the Kamchatka Peninsula. Crossing longitude 180°, they are the
westernmost part of the United States (and by one definition the easternmost; see
Extreme points of
the United States). Nearly all the archipelago is part of Alaska and usually
considered as being in the "Alaskan
Bush", but at the extreme western end the small,
geologically-related, and remote Commander Islands are in Russia.
islands, with their 57 volcanoes, are in the northern part of the
Pacific Ring of Fire
Alaska Marine Highway
through the islands.
Physiographically, they are a distinct section of the larger
Pacific Border province, which in turn is part of the larger
islands, known before 1867 as the Catherine Archipelago, comprise
five groups (east to west): the Fox, Islands of Four Mountains, Andreanof, Rat, and Near island groups (with Buldir
Island halfway between Favian and
Diana Islands, but part of neither group).
Aleutians seen from space
They are all located between 52° and 55° N latitude and 172° E and
163° W longitude.
The axis of the archipelago near the mainland of Alaska has a
southwest trend, but near the 179th meridian 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.
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 a lot
activity, but are still
habitable; the Aleutians lie between the Pacific and North American
. 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.
Active Aleutian volcanoes
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
coasts are rocky and surf-worn, and the approaches are exceedingly
dangerous, the land rising immediately from the coasts to steep,
Volcano ( ) 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. Denizens
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 (48 km) west of Unalaska
The climate of the islands is oceanic, with moderate and fairly
uniform temperatures and heavy rainfall. Fogs are almost constant.
weather is much cooler than Southeast Alaska (Sitka), but the winter temperature of the islands and of
Panhandle is very
nearly the same.
During the winter time the islands are the
centre for the semipermanent low-pressure area
called Aleutian low
The mean annual temperature for Unalaska, the most populated island
of the group, is about 38 °F (3.4 °C), being about 30 °F (−1.1 °C)
in January and about 52 °F (11.1 °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 in
(2,030 mm), and Unalaska, with about 250 rainy days per year,
is said to be one of the rainiest places within the United States.
Cape Promontory, Cape Lutkes in the
Aleutian Islands, Alaska
The growing season lasts about 135 days, from early in May till
late in September, but agriculture is limited to the raising of a
few vegetables. With the exception of some stunted willows
, the vast majority of the chain is destitute
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 of them estimated to
be two hundred years old—rarely reach a height of even ten feet,
and many of them are still less than five feet 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, including grasses
, and many flowering plants.
On the less mountainous islands, the raising of sheep
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.
Today, the economy is primarily based upon
, and, to a lesser extent,
the presence of American military. The only crop is potato
are raised in
barns under protection from cold.
The native people refer to themselves as Unangan, and are now
generally known by most non-natives as the "Aleut
The Aleut language
is one of the two
main branches of the Eskimo-Aleut
language family. This
family is not known to be related to any others.
2000 census, there was a population of 8,162
on the islands, of whom 4,283 were living in the main settlement of
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 further
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
Explorers, traders and missionaries arrived
from Russia beginning in
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
ships were separated by a storm, Chirikov discovered several
eastern islands of the Aleutian group, and Bering discovered
several of the western islands, finally being wrecked and losing
his life on the island of the Komandorskis (Commander
Islands) that now bears his name (Bering Island). The survivors of Bering's party reached the
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.
manner, Russia gained a
foothold on the northwestern coast of North America.
Aleutian Islands consequently belonged to Russia, until that
possessions in North America to the United States in 1867.
The Russians were ruthless in their expansion, using technology and
cruelty to enslave the Aleuts, especially for sea otter
hunting. The Russians captured otter pelts from
the Aleutian Islands, through the Gulf of Alaska, along the Alaska Panhandle, and south, even to
California. Some Aleuts were moved to the Pribilof
Islands so that fur seals could be captured there as
the Russian merchant Andrian Tolstykh had made a detailed census in
the vicinity of Adak and extended
Russian citizenship to the Aleuts.
Despite some attempts to eliminate slavery and reduce cruel
treatment in the 1790s, the Shelikhov company
depended on the
labor of Aleut hunters to collect sea otter pelts.
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
Among the first Christian
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
early Christian missionary of the Russian Orthodox Church was
Father Veniaminov who arrived in Unalaska in 1824. He was named Bishop Innokentii in 1840 and
moved to Sitka.
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
from Russia in 1867, further development took place.
buildings included a Methodist mission and
orphanage, and the headquarters for a considerable fleet of United
cutters which patrolled the sealing
grounds of the Pribilof
The first public school in Unalaska opened
The U.S. Congress
citizenship to all Natives (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
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
The U.S. Navy, having broken the Japanese naval codes
, knew that this
was just a diversion, and it did not expend large amounts of effort
in defending the islands. A few Americans were taken to Japan as
prisoners of war. Most of the civilian population of the
Aleutians were interned by the United States in camps in the
During the Aleutian Islands Campaign
American and Canadian forces invaded Japanese-held Attu and
defeated the Japanese, and subsequently regained control of all the
islands. The islands were also a stopping point for hundreds of
aircraft sent from California to Russia as part of the war
Monday, June 3, 2002 was celebrated as Dutch Harbor Remembrance
Day. The governor of 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 National Historic
Area Visitors Center opened in June 2002.
Recent and miscellaneous developments
The 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 shareholders.
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,
Nuclear Testing on Amchitka
Department of Energy (DOE) conducted underground tests of nuclear weapons on Amchitka Island from 1965 to 1971 as part of the Vela Uniform program.
detonation, the Cannikin
, was the largest underground
by the United
Western Aleutian Islands, from a 1916 map of the Alaska
Total area of from Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- Gibson, Daniel D., and G. Vernon Byrd. Birds of the
Aleutian Islands, Alaska. Cambridge, Mass: Nuttall
Ornthological Club, 2007. ISBN 9780943610733
- Ivanov, Vi︠a︡cheslav Vsevolodovich. The 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
- Jochelson, Waldemar. Archaeological Investigations in the
Aleutian Islands. Washington: Carnegie Institution of