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Puget Sound ( ) is a sound or complex of inland marine waterways in the northwestern part of Washingtonmarker, United Statesmarker, extending from the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fucamarker south to the head of the sound at the state capital of Olympiamarker. It branches out from Admiralty Inletmarker and Deception Passmarker in the north to Olympia, Washingtonmarker in the south. The term is also used to mean the general region of the sound, including the Seattle metropolitan area, home to about 4.2 million people.

Name and definition

There are various definitions of the extent and boundaries of Puget Sound.

In 1792 George Vancouver gave the name "Puget's Sound" to the waters south of the Tacoma Narrowsmarker, in honor of Peter Puget, then a lieutenant accompanying him on the Vancouver Expedition. The name later came to be used for the waters north of Tacoma Narrows as well.

The USGS defines Puget Sound as all the waters south of three entrances — the main entrance at Admiralty Inletmarker being a line between Point Wilsonmarker, on the Olympic Peninsulamarker, and Point Partridgemarker, on Whidbey Islandmarker; a second entrance at Deception Passmarker being a line from West Point, on Whidbey Island, to Deception Island and Rosario Head, on Fidalgo Islandmarker; and a third entrance at the south end of the Swinomish Channel, which connects Skagit Baymarker and Padilla Baymarker. Under this definition, Puget Sound includes the waters of Hood Canalmarker, Admiralty Inlet, Possession Soundmarker, Saratoga Passagemarker, and others. It does not include Bellingham Baymarker, Padilla Baymarker, the waters of the San Juan Islandsmarker or anything farther north.

Another definition, given by NOAA, subdivides Puget Sound into five basins or regions. Four of these correspond to areas within the USGS definition, but the fifth one, called "Northern Puget Sound" includes a large additional region. It is defined as bounded to the north by the international boundary with Canada, and to the west by a line running north from the mouth of the Sekiu Rivermarker on the Olympic Peninsula. Under this definition significant parts of the Strait of Juan de Fucamarker and the Strait of Georgiamarker are included in Puget Sound, with the international boundary marking an abrupt and hydrologically arbitrary limit.

According to Arthur Kruckeberg, the term "Puget Sound" is sometimes used for waters north of Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass, especially for areas along the north coast of Washington and the San Juan Islands, essentially equivalent to NOAA's "Northern Puget Sound" subdivision described above. Kruckeberg uses the term "Puget Sound and adjacent waters".

An alternative term for Puget Sound, still used by only some Native Americans and environmental groups, is Whulge (or Whulj), an Anglicization of the Lushootseed name WulcH, which means "Salt Water". Another neologism also popularized by environmental and aboriginal groups is Salish Seamarker, but this does not have wide acceptance nor a single standard meaning from one group to the next. Sometimes the terms "Puget Sound" and "Puget Sound and adjacent waters" are used for not only Puget Sound proper but also for waters to the north, such as Bellingham Baymarker and the San Juan Islandsmarker region.


See also Puget Sound region.
Evening on Puget Sound by Edward S.
Curtis, 1913
George Vancouver explored Puget Sound in 1792. Vancouver claimed it for Great Britainmarker on 4 June 1792, naming it for one of his officers, Lieutenant Peter Puget. It was originally administered from Fort Vancouvermarker as part of the Hudson's Bay Company's Columbia Department, but became U.S. territory when the 1846 Oregon Treaty was signed.

The first European settlement in the Puget Sound area was that of Fort Nisquallymarker, in 1833, a farm and trading post of the British Puget Sound Agricultural Company a subsidiary of the Hudson's Bay Company.

After arriving along the Oregon Trail, many settlers wandered north to what is now Washington State and settled the Puget Sound area. The first American settlement was New Market (now known as Tumwatermarker) in 1846. In 1853 Washington Territory was formed from part of Oregon Territorymarker. In 1888 the Northern Pacific railroad line reached Puget Sound, linking the region to eastern states.


Low Tide Whidbey Island
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines Puget Sound as a bay with numerous channels and branches; more specifically, it is a fjord system of flooded glacial valleys. Puget Sound is part of a larger physiographical structure termed the Puget Trough, which is a physiographic section of the larger Pacific Border province, which in turn is part of the larger Pacific Mountain System.

Puget Sound is a very large salt water estuary, or system of many estuaries, fed by highly seasonal freshwater from the Olympic and Cascade Mountain watersheds. Fresh inflow ranges between a peak of about 367,000 cubic feet per second (10,400 m3/s) to a minimum of about 14,000 ft3/s (400 m3/s). The northern boundary is Admiralty Inlet, between Point Partridge on Whidbey Islandmarker and Point Wilson on the Olympic Peninsulamarker. A second entrance is Deception Pass, between West Point on Whidbey Island and Rosario Head on Fidalgo Islandmarker.

The Sound has been reshaped by the scouring action and till deposition of the Wisconsin Glaciation, which extended in this region as far south as Olympia; the soils of the region, less than ten thousand years old, are still characterized as immature. During glacial maximum a large meltwater lake formed at the icewall's forefront, drained by the Chehalis River; its sediments form the blue-gray clay identified as the Lawton Clay. As icebergs calved off the toe of the glacier, their embedded gravels and boulders were deposited in the chaotic mix of unsorted till geologists call glaciomarine drift. Many beaches about the Sound display glacial erratics, rendered more prominent than those in coastal woodland solely by their exposed position; submerged glacial erratics sometimes provide hazards to navigation. The sheer weight of glacial-age ice depressed the landforms, which experienced isostatic rebound after the ice sheets had retreated; because the rate of rebound was not synchronous with the post-ice age rise in sea levels, the bed of what is Puget Sound, filled alternately with fresh and with sea water. The upper level of the lake-sediment Lawton Clay now lies about 120 feet (37 m) above sea level.

The Puget Sound system consists of four deep basins connected by shallower sills. The four basins are Hood Canalmarker, west of the Kitsap Peninsulamarker, Whidbey Basin, east of Whidbey Island, South Sound, south of the Tacoma Narrowsmarker, and the Main Basin, which is further subdivided into Admiralty Inletmarker and the Central Basin. Puget Sound's sills, a kind of submarine terminal moraine, separate the basins from one another, and Puget Sound from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Three sills are particularly significant — the one at Admiralty Inlet which checks the flow of water between the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget sound, the one at the entrance to Hood Canal (about below the surface), and the one at the Tacoma Narrows (about ). Other sills that present less of a barrier include the ones at Blake Islandmarker, Agate Passmarker, Rich Passagemarker, and Hammersley Inletmarker.

The depth of the basins is a result of the Sound being part of the Cascadia subduction zone, where the terranes accreted at the edge of the Juan de Fuca Plate are being subducted under the North American Plate: there has not been a major subduction zone earthquake here since the magnitude nine Cascadia Earthquake; according to Japanesemarker records, it occurred 26 January 1700. Lesser Puget Sound earthquakes with shallow epicenters, caused by the fracturing of stressed oceanic rocks as they are subducted still cause great damage. The Seattle Fault cuts across Puget Sound, crossing just north of Vashon Islandmarker and dipping under the city of Seattle. To the south, the existence of a second fault, the Tacoma Fault has buckled the intervening strata in the Seattle Uplift.

Typical Puget Sound profiles of dense glacial till overlying permeable glacial outwash of gravels above an impermeable bed of silty clay may become unstable after periods of unusually wet weather and slump in landslides.


A unique state-run ferry system, the Washington State Ferries, connects the larger islands to the Washington mainland, as well as both sides of the sound, allowing cars and people to move about the greater Puget Sound region.

Flora and fauna

Geoduck: It is estimated that more than 100 million geoducks are packed into Puget Sound's sediments. Also known as "king clam," geoducks are considered to be a delicacy in Asian countries. Orcas are famous throughout the Sound, and are a large tourist attraction. Salmon flow in and out of Puget Sound and are a main food source for many marine animals. Pinnipeds include the harbor seal, the Stellar Sea Lion, the California Sea Lion, and the occasional Northern Elephant Seal. Minke, Humpback, and Grey Whales also live in the waters.

Prominent islands

See also


  1. Environmental History and Features of Puget Sound, see also: Map of subareas of Puget Sound, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Marine Fisheries Service
  2. Features of Puget Sound Region: Oceanography And Physical Processes, Chapter 3 of the State of the Nearshore Report, King County Department of Natural Resources, Seattle, Washington, 2001.
  3. "Ancient seismic stresses at work in Puget Sound region" Cyberwest Magazine 9 June 2004
  4. Washington State Department of Ecology:"Puget Sound landslides"

Further reading

External links

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