Land of Alaska
Alaska comprises eight distinct physiographic and environmental regions. Much of the mainland panhandle region,
a narrow strip of land 25 to 50 miles (40 to 80 km) wide lying east and south of the St. Elias Mountains,
is composed of the Boundary Ranges. There are several large ice fields there, and the peaks include
Mount St. Elias (18,008 feet [5,489 metres]), from whose summit the Alaska-Yukon border shifts due north
following the 141st meridian. The western extension of that mountain chain is the Chugach Range, a giant arc
at the northernmost edge of the Gulf of Alaska. Many of the range’s remote valleys and high ridges are still
unexplored, and the relief and glaciation inhibit exploitation. The coast is characterized by frequent and
intense oceanic storm systems that have produced dense rain forests on the coastal mountain flanks.
The region of the south coastal archipelago and the Gulf of Alaska islands includes the Alexander Archipelago
in the panhandle region, with 1,100 islands, as well as Kodiak Island, just southeast of the Alaska Peninsula,
and its satellites south of Cook Inlet. Those islands are lower, less rugged, and less glaciated. All receive
heavy rain and are affected by waters warmed by both the Kuroshio and Alaska currents.
The Aleutian region includes the Alaska Peninsula, which forms the south shoreline of Bristol Bay, and the 1,100-mile- (1,770-km-)
long Aleutian island chain that separates the North Pacific from the Bering Sea. The chain includes 14 large islands,
55 significant but smaller ones, and numerous islets. The largest islands are Unimak, Unalaska, and Umnak. On the occasionally
clear summer days, active volcanoes and such glacier-covered peaks as symmetrical Shishaldin Volcano (9,372 feet [2,857 metres])
on Unimak can be seen. Usually, however, the weather is wet and stormy, the winds horizontal and cutting, and the fog all-pervading.
The broad Alaska Range region connects the Aleutian Range across the southern third of mainland Alaska to the
Wrangell Mountains, which abut the vast complex of the St. Elias Mountains. The Wrangell Mountains have large
active volcanoes and high valley glaciers. The flanks of that subarctic range are largely tundra-covered.
The low-lying interior basin region between the Alaska Range in the north and the Chugach–Wrangell–St.
Elias mountains to the south and east enjoys a relatively temperate climate. The valleys of the Susitna and Matanuska rivers,
Cook Inlet, and the Kenai Peninsula are where the majority of Alaskans live.
The central plains and lowlands of interior Alaska constitute a vast region west and north of the Alaska Range;
they reach as far north as the Brooks Range. The lowlands extend west from the Canadian border to Norton Sound,
the Seward Peninsula, and the Yukon River delta, as well as south to the northern rim of Bristol Bay on the Bering Sea.
The region is characterized by river flats and truncated tablelands, as well as extensive areas of wetlands
formed from melting permafrost. It includes Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, a 9-million-acre (3.6-million-hectare)
refuge that contains the Yukon Flats, a vast wetland basin, and the Tanana River floodplain, part of which supports
the growth of boreal forests.
The Brooks Range runs from west to east in the area north of the interior. It gradually slopes northward through a set
of low-ridge foothills to a linear coastal plain bordering the Arctic Ocean and westward to lower hills north of Kotzebue Sound.
There are a few high Arctic glaciers in the eastern Brooks Range, and the area is semiarid. The lower flanks and valleys
are tundra-covered, with permafrost features.
The Arctic coastal plain north of the Brooks Range, often referred to as the North Slope, has a truly polar environment,
with the sea waters along the coast frozen eight months of the year and the ground permanently frozen except
for a thin zone of summer melting. It is treeless and, in summer, grasses and Arctic alpine flowers abound.
The Colville River flows through the centre of that region and lies along the eastern edge of the National
Petroleum Reserve–Alaska, originally set aside for petroleum development. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
lies to the east of the Colville. Prudhoe Bay, located between those reserves, is a centre of oil-drilling activities in the region.
An overview of the Alaskan economy.
Alaska’s economy is unique and heavily influenced by its geography, natural resources, and economic activities. Here are some key aspects:
- Natural Resources: Alaska is rich in natural resources. It is a major producer of oil, natural gas, minerals, and fish. The state’s oil production from the Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk River fields has historically been a significant driver of its economy. However, the oil industry has experienced fluctuations due to changes in oil prices and production levels.
- Tourism: Tourism is a significant industry in Alaska. The state’s stunning natural landscapes, including national parks, glaciers, and wildlife, attract millions of tourists each year. The summer cruise season is especially popular.
- Fishing: Alaska is known for its abundant fishery resources, including salmon, halibut, and crab. Commercial fishing is a major contributor to the state’s economy.
- Federal Government: Federal government spending plays a vital role in Alaska’s economy. The state hosts military bases and government agencies, and federal funds support various projects and infrastructure development.
- Transportation: Due to its vast size and remote locations, transportation is a critical aspect of the Alaskan economy. Air travel and maritime transport are essential for connecting communities and supporting economic activities.
- Mining: Alaska has significant mineral resources, including gold, zinc, and lead. Mining contributes to the state’s economy, and gold mining in particular has seen growth in recent years.
- Agriculture: Agriculture in Alaska is limited due to its short growing season and harsh climate. However, there are some agricultural activities, such as farming and greenhouse cultivation.
- Education and Healthcare: Educational institutions and healthcare services are essential for the well-being of the state’s residents and the development of a skilled workforce.
- Challenges: Alaska faces economic challenges related to its reliance on oil, its remote and harsh environment, and the high cost of living in some areas. Economic diversification has been a goal to reduce dependence on a single industry.
- Indigenous Economies: Alaska is home to numerous Indigenous communities, and their economies often revolve around subsistence hunting, fishing, and cultural activities. These communities contribute to the state’s overall economic and cultural diversity.
It’s important to note that economic conditions can change over time due to various factors, including global market trends, technological advancements, and government policies.