Aleutian Islands

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Aleutian Islands

(əlo͞o`shən), chain of rugged, volcanic islands curving c.1,200 mi (1,900 km) west from the tip of the Alaska PeninsulaAlaska Peninsula,
SW Alaska, extending 500 mi (800 km) SW from the mainland, separating Bristol Bay and the Bering Sea from Cook Inlet, the Shelikof Strait, and Pacific Ocean.
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 and approaching Russia's Komandorski IslandsKomandorski Islands
or Commander Islands,
Rus. Komandorskiye Ostrova, group of treeless islands, off E Kamchatka Peninsula, E Russian Far East, in SW Bering Sea. They consist of Bering Island, Medny Island, and two islets.
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. A partially submerged continuation of the Aleutian RangeAleutian Range,
volcanic mountain chain, c.1,600 mi (2,600 km) long, SW Alaska, extending W from Anchorage along the Alaska Peninsula, and continuing, partly submerged as the Aleutian Islands, to Attu island. Mt.
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, they separate the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. The Aleutians comprise four main groups: Fox Islands, nearest to the mainland, including UnimakUnimak
, volcanic island, 70 mi (113 km) long, off W Alaska. It is the largest of the Aleutian Islands, and nearest to the Alaska Peninsula. Mt. Shishaldin (9,980 ft/3,042 m), an intermittently active volcano, is on Unimak.
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, UnalaskaUnalaska
, rugged island, 30 mi (48 km) long, off SW Alaska, one of the largest Aleutian Islands. Visited (c.1759) by Russian explorers, the island was a center of Russian fur trade until it was superseded by Kodiak.
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, UmnakUmnak
, island, c.83 mi (134 km) long, off SW Alaska, one of the largest of the Aleutian Islands. A volcanic peak, Mt. Vsevidof, 7,236 ft (2,206 m) high, is there.
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, and Akutan; Andreanof Islands, including Amlia, Atka, Adak, Kanaga, and Tanaga; Rat Islands, including AmchitkaAmchitka
, island, 40 mi (64 km) long, in the Rat group of the Aleutian Islands, W Alaska. It was a site in 1965 and 1971 for the underground detonation of nuclear devices, its small population having been relocated. In the 1990s, radiation from the test caves was detected at the surface.
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 and Kiska; and Near Islands, the smallest and westernmost group, including Agattu and AttuAttu,
island: see Aleutian Islands.
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. The Semichi Islands, of which Shemya is the largest, are nearby.

The Aleutians have few good harbors, and numerous reefs make navigation treacherous. Among active volcanoes is Mt. Shishaldin, on Unimak. Relatively moderate temperatures lead to heavy rains and constant fog. Almost treeless, the islands have a luxuriant growth of grasses, bushes, and sedges. Most of the islands are within the Aleutian National Wildlife Reserve. Sheep and reindeer are raised. Hunting and fishing are the main occupations of the Aleut population. Research stations and military bases are located on the islands; Amchitka has been used for underground nuclear tests.

The Aleutians were visited in 1741 by Vitus BeringBering, Vitus Jonassen
, 1681–1741, Danish explorer in Russian employ. In 1725 he was selected by Peter I to explore far NE Siberia. Having finally moved men and supplies across Siberia, Bering in 1728 sailed N through Bering Strait but sighted no land and did not
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, a Danish explorer employed by Russia. The indigenous Aleuts were exploited by the Russian trappers and traders who, in search of sea otter, seal, and fox fur, established settlements on the islands in the late 18th and early 19th cent. The islands were included in the Alaska purchase in 1867; after the purchase, the U.S. government forbade seal trapping except by Aleuts. Fishing and fur hunting are now controlled by the federal government. Dutch Harbor, on Unalaska, became a transshipping point for the gold boomtown of NomeNome
, city (1990 pop. 3,500), W Alaska, on the southern side of Seward Peninsula, on Norton Sound; founded c.1898, when gold was discovered on the beach there. It is the commercial, government, and supply center for NW Alaska, with an airport.
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 in 1900. The Aleutians were important during World War II; in 1940, a U.S. naval base was established at Dutch Harbor. In 1942 the Japanese bombed the base and later occupied Attu, Kiska, and Agattu islands; a U.S. counterattack from bases on Adak and Amchitka regained them in 1943.

Aleutian Islands

 

an archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean, southwest of Alaska, part of the state of Alaska (USA). It consists of 110 islands and numerous cliffs situated in a 1,740-km arc forming the southern boundary of the Bering Sea. The islands have an area of 37,800 sq km and a population of 6,011 (1960), including several hundred native Aleuts. The archipelago consists of four island groups: the Fox, Andreanof, Rat, and Near.

The Aleutian Islands are the summits of an underwater mountain range that rises from the bottom of the Aleutian depression in the Pacific Ocean to more than 10,000 m (measuring from the underwater part). The majority of the islands are actually volcanic cones, many of which are covered with snow. The highest peak is the Shishaldin volcano on Unimak Island, at 2,860 m. There are 25 active volcanoes, many of which have erupted in the 20th century. The larger islands have sections of coastal lowlands and usable bays. The climate is subarctic and oceanic. The winter is warm and wet, with abundant snowfalls and frequent thaws. The average temperature of the coldest month, February, is –1.4°C. The summer is cool, with frequent fogs. The average temperature of the warmest month, August, is 11.9°C. The annual precipitation is about 1,500 mm, with maximum rainfall in the autumn. Storms are frequent. The flora is represented mainly by subarctic meadows of cereal grass and mixed grass species with occasional small willow growths. At elevations of about 100 m, the meadows give way to heaths, which are replaced by an alpine tundra belt at higher elevations. The soils are subarctic, sod, and peat, and mountain tundra. Prior to their discovery by Europeans, the Aleutian Islands and surrounding waters had an abundance of fur-bearing animals and sea mammals. The fox, the sea otter, and the sea lion have been almost completely exterminated. Walruses, seals, cod, halibut, and herring inhabit the coastal waters. There are large bird colonies on the rocks. Blue foxes are raised on all the islands.

The Aleutian Islands were discovered in the middle of the 18th century by the Russian navigators Mikhail Nevod-chikov, Andrean Tolstykh, and Stepan Glotov. Russian expeditions of P. K. Krenitsyn and M. D. Levas ho ν (1768–69), O. E. Kotsebu (1815–18), and F. P. Litke (1826–29) greatly contributed to the study of the islands. The Aleutian Islands belonged to Russia until 1867, when they were sold to the USA with Alaska. Dutch Harbor on Unalaska Island is the chief community and a large naval base.

REFERENCES

Zubkova, Z. N. Aleutskie ostrova. Moscow, 1948.
Landscapes of Alaska. Edited by H. E. Williams. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1958.

A. V. ANTIPOVA

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