Alaska's Aleutian Islands •

Last update: December 15th, 2019 at 8:37 am

Remote, rugged and extraordinarily beautiful, Alaska’s Aleutian Islands are best known for wildlife reserves, military bases, fishing, furs and fog. The sprawling volcanic archipelago was brought into the spotlight by the Russian-supported expedition of Alexey Chirikov and Vitus Bering in 1741, and soon became controlled by the Russian-American Fur Company. In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska, including the Aleutian Islands, from Russia. By 1900 the port in Unalaska was well established as a shipping port for Alaska gold.

The archipelago sweeps about 1,200 miles (1,800 km) from the tip of the Alaskan Peninsula to Attu, the most westward island. Four major island groups hold 14 large islands, about 55 smaller islands, and a large number of islets, adding up to roughly 150 islands/islets in total. This chain separates the Bering Sea (north) from the Pacific Ocean (south) and the islands are connected by the Marine Highway Ferry – at least as far as Unalaska. For the most remote islands, such as birding paradise of Attu, the western-most Aleutian Island, travel becomes trickier and relies primarily on custom charter.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flew over the region and captured this spectacular true-color image of the eastern Aleutian Islands on May 15, 2014. In this image, the Alaskan Peninsula protrudes from the mainland and sweeps to the southwest. The first set of islands are called the Fox Island group. Unalaska Island is part of this group and can be identified, with some imagination, as an island formed in the shape of a flying cherub, with two arms (peninsulas) outstretched towards the northeast, seemingly reaching for the round “balls” of Akutan and Akun Islands. The smallest islands in the west of the image belong to the group known as the Islands of Four Mountains. The Aleutians continue far to the west of this image.

Fog surrounds the Aleutians, stretching from just off the southwestern Alaska mainland to the western Fox Islands group, then further southwest across the Pacific Ocean. It appears to give way to marine stratocumulus clouds in the west. Fog is common in the area, and can be a hazard to shipping.

Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC

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