Alaska Peninsula

The 450-mile (724-km)-long Alaska Peninsula projects southwestwardly off the Alaskan mainland. Just off the tip of the peninsula lies 60-mile (97-km)-long Unimak Island. Technically a part of the Aleutian Island chain, Unimak is closely allied with the peninsula by politics and economics. Volcanic activity, both past and present, has been observed along the length of the peninsula. The Aleutian Trench, lying deep in the Pacific Ocean where the Pacific Plate is subducted under the North American Plate, forms a great arc that parallels the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian Islands. The energy generated by the collision of these two plates catalyzes the intense seismic and volcanic activity on the Alaska Peninsula. The Aleutian Range, a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and composed almost entirely of volcanoes, forms the mountainous backbone of the entire length of the Alaska Peninsula and continues to the end of the Aleutian Islands chain.

The westerly expression of the Alaska Range—the Revelation Mountains—and the easterly expression of the Aleutian Range—Redoubt Volcano (10,197 ft/3108 m)—are both found in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. The next westward volcano in the row, Mt Iliamna (10,016 ft/3053 m), overlooks Lake Iliamna, Alaska's largest lake (1150 sq mi/2978 sq km) at the base of the Alaska Peninsula. The Bering Sea with its Bristol Bay lies on the north side of the peninsula, and the Pacific Ocean with its Shelikof Strait lies to the south.

Much of the peninsula is treeless, but scattered, small stands of deciduous and coniferous trees exist, especially on south-facing slopes and valleys. The surrounding seas greatly influence the climate of Alaska Peninsula. The weather is typically cloudy, windy, and rainy; total precipitation ranges from 20 to 33 inches (51-84 cm) per year, including about 50 inches (127 cm) of snow. Winter temperatures average in the 6-30°F (-14 to -1°C) range, and summer temperatures in the 40-65°F (4-18°C) range.

The greater part of the Alaska Peninsula is under either state or federal protection; these lands include Katmai National Park and Preserve, Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, Becharof, Izembek, and Alaska Peninsula National Wildlife Refuges, Izembek State Game Refuge, and McNeil River State Game Sanctuary (famous for its great concentration of brown bears during the salmon runs). Aniakchak Volcano (4398 ft/1341 m) last erupted in 1931, but some 3700 years earlier, 3000 feet (914 m) of its top blew off, leaving behind a 6-mile (10-km)-wide caldera (a volcanic crater) measuring 2000 ft/610 m deep. Designated a National Natural Landmark, the 8223 ft/2507 m Mt Veniaminof is a massive volcano that rises from a base 30 miles (48 km) in diameter. The broad, conical Veniaminof Volcano, one of the highest and largest volcanoes on the peninsula, is truncated by a steep-walled, glacier-filled caldera that formed nearly 3700 years ago.

Since no roads connect the peninsula to other parts of the state, the area is served only by air and sea transportation. The human population swells markedly during the summer, but the year-round population numbers about 5000, with Alaska Natives (Aleut and Koniag Alutiiq) comprising about half the total. Commercial fishing, fish processing, sport fishing, sport hunting, tourism, and government and transportation services form the economic base of Alaska Peninsula. Brown bears, moose, caribou, wolves, many other kinds of smaller mammals, and many kinds of birds are commonly observed on the peninsula. The surrounding marine waters are highly favorable to crabs, fish, and marine mammals.

J. Richard Gorham

See also Alaska; Aleut; Aleutian Islands; National Parks and Protected Areas: Alaska; Volcanoes and Volcanic Activity

Further Reading

Barnett, J., "Chignik summers." Alaska Geographic, 21(1) (1994): 50-53

Bodeau, Jean, Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, Anchorage: Alaska Natural History Association and Greatland Graphics, 1992

Plafker, George & Henry C. Berg (editors), The Geology of Alaska, Boulder: The Geological Society of America, 1994 Rennick, Penny (editor), "Backcountry Alaska." Alaska Geographic, 13(2) (1986): 1-224

-(editor), "Nushagak River." Alaska Geographic, 17(1)

-(editor), "The Alaska Peninsula." Alaska Geographic,

-(editor), "Russian America." Alaska Geographic, 26(4)

- (editor), "Seals, sea lions and sea otters." Alaska

Geographic, 27(2) (2000): 1-96 Sherwonit, B., "Aniakchak caldera." Alaska Geographic, 21(1) (1994): 16-19

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