State of Alaska
Flag of Alaska State seal of Alaska
Flag Seal
Nickname(s): The Last Frontier
Motto(s): North to the Future
State anthem: Alaska's Flag
Map of the United States with Alaska highlighted
Official language English, Inupiat, Central Siberian Yupik, Central Alaskan Yup'ik, Alutiiq, Aleut, Dena'ina, Deg Xinag, Holikachuk, Koyukon, Upper Kuskokwim, Gwich’in, Lower Tanana, Upper Tanana, Tanacross, Hän, Ahtna, Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Coast Tsimshian
Spoken languages English 86.3%
Alaska Native languages 5.2%
Tagalog 3.4%
Spanish 2.9%
Others 2.2%
Demonym Alaskan
Capital Juneau
Largest city Anchorage
Area Ranked 1st
 - Total 663,268 sq mi
(1,717,856 km2)
 - Width 2,261 miles (3,639 km)
 - Length 1,420 miles (2,285 km)
 - % water 13.77
 - Latitude 51°20'N to 71°50'N
 - Longitude 130°W to 172°E
Number of people Ranked 48th
 - Total 738,432 (2015 est)
 - Density 1.26/sq mi  (0.49/km2)
Ranked 50th
 - Average income $75,112 (2nd)
Height above sea level
 - Highest point Denali
20,310 ft (6190.5 m)
 - Average 1900 ft  (580 m)
 - Lowest point sea level
Became part of the U.S. January 3, 1959 (49th)
Governor Bill Walker (I)
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski (R)
Dan Sullivan (R)
U.S. House delegation Don Young (R) (at-large) (list)
Time zones  
 - east of 169° 30' Alaska - UTC -9/-8
 - west of 169° 30' Aleutian - UTC -10/-9
Abbreviations AK, US-AK
Website www.alaska.gov
Alaska State symbols
Flag of Alaska.svg
The Flag of Alaska.

Seal of Alaska.svg
The Seal of Alaska.

Animate insignia
Bird(s) Willow ptarmigan
Fish King salmon
Flower(s) Forget-me-not
Insect Four-spot skimmer dragonfly
Tree Sitka Spruce

Inanimate insignia
Fossil Woolly Mammoth
Gemstone Jade
Mineral Gold
Song(s) "Alaska's Flag"
Other Dog mushing (state sport)

Route marker(s)
Alaska Route Marker

State Quarter
Quarter of Alaska
Released in 2008

Lists of United States state insignia

Alaska (Listeni/əˈlæskə/) is a state in the United States. It is in the Northwest corner of the continent of North America. Alaska does not touch any other US state. It has borders with Canada, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Bering Strait.

Alaska is the biggest state in the United States. It is the 4th least populated state (there are 3 other states with fewer people living there.) It has the lowest population density of all the states. About half of the population of Alaska lives in the Anchorage metropolitan area. 722,718 people live in Alaska.

The United States bought Alaska from Russia on March 30, 1867. This was called the Alaska Purchase. It cost $7.2 million. Today, that would be $120 million. The price was about $0.02 per acre ($4.74/km2). Alaska became an organized (or incorporated) territory on May 11, 1912. It became the 49th state on January 3, 1959.

The name Alaska comes from the Aleut word alaxsaq. This means "the mainland" or "the object towards which the action of the sea is directed." The land is also called Alyeska, which is another Aleut word that means "the great land." The Russian name was Аляска.

Geography

Alaska area compared to conterminous US
Map showing how big Alaska is compared to the other states

The capital city is Juneau, but the biggest city is Anchorage. Alaska is the biggest state in the United States, but it almost has the least people. Alaska has almost 20% of all the land in the U.S., but only about 0.2% of the people. It is not connected to any other states by American land, but it is connected to Canada.

Alaska has many glaciers, some of which are can be seen from passing cruise ships. Some are coastal, and others are not by the ocean. It is a popular tourist destination, as there is a very rich culture along with beautiful scenery. There are many wild animals in Alaska. Some of them are the brown bear, the moose, and the wolf.

There are some important industries in Alaska, like oil, fishing, mining, and forestry. Oil is the biggest industry in Alaska. Most of the oil is very far north in the Alaskan arctic. A very long pipeline starts at the northern coast of Alaska and runs to the southern coast. It is over 800 miles (1,300 km) long. There were many gold rushes in Alaska.

Etymology

The name "Alaska" (Аляска) was introduced in the Russian colonial period when it was used to refer to the peninsula. It was derived from an Aleut, or Unangam idiom, which figuratively refers to the mainland of Alaska. Literally, it means object to which the action of the sea is directed.

Geography

Alaska is the northernmost and westernmost state in the United States and has the most easterly longitude in the United States because the Aleutian Islands extend into the Eastern Hemisphere. Alaska is the only non-contiguous U.S. state on continental North America; about 500 miles (800 km) of British Columbia (Canada) separates Alaska from Washington. It is technically part of the continental U.S., but is sometimes not included in colloquial use; Alaska is not part of the contiguous U.S., often called "the Lower 48". The capital city, Juneau, is situated on the mainland of the North American continent but is not connected by road to the rest of the North American highway system.

The state is bordered by Yukon and British Columbia in Canada, to the east, the Gulf of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean to the south and southwest, the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, and Chukchi Sea to the west and the Arctic Ocean to the north. Alaska's territorial waters touch Russia's territorial waters in the Bering Strait, as the Russian Big Diomede Island and Alaskan Little Diomede Island are only 3 miles (4.8 km) apart. Alaska has a longer coastline than all the other U.S. states combined.

Alaska area compared to conterminous US
Alaska's size compared with the 48 contiguous states. (Albers equal-area conic projection)

Alaska is the largest state in the United States in land area at 663,268 square miles (1,717,856 km2), over twice the size of Texas, the next largest state. Alaska is larger than all but 18 sovereign countries. Counting territorial waters, Alaska is larger than the combined area of the next three largest states: Texas, California, and Montana. It is also larger than the combined area of the 22 smallest U.S. states.

Regions

There are no officially defined borders demarcating the various regions of Alaska, but there are six widely accepted regions:

South Central

The most populous region of Alaska, containing Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Valley and the Kenai Peninsula. Rural, mostly unpopulated areas south of the Alaska Range and west of the Wrangell Mountains also fall within the definition of South Central, as do the Prince William Sound area and the communities of Cordova and Valdez.

Southeast

Also referred to as the Panhandle or Inside Passage, this is the region of Alaska closest to the rest of the United States. As such, this was where most of the initial non-indigenous settlement occurred in the years following the Alaska Purchase. The region is dominated by the Alexander Archipelago as well as the Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States. It contains the state capital Juneau, the former capital Sitka, and Ketchikan, at one time Alaska's largest city. The Alaska Marine Highway provides a vital surface transportation link throughout the area, as only three communities (Haines, Hyder and Skagway) enjoy direct connections to the contiguous North American road system. Officially designated in 1963.

Interior

Denali Mt McKinley
Denali is the highest peak in North America.

The Interior is the largest region of Alaska; much of it is uninhabited wilderness. Fairbanks is the only large city in the region. Denali National Park and Preserve is located here. Denali is the highest mountain in North America.

Southwest

Grizzly Bear Fishing Brooks Falls
Grizzly bear fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls, part of Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Southwest Alaska is a sparsely inhabited region stretching some 500 miles (800 km) inland from the Bering Sea. Most of the population lives along the coast. Kodiak Island is also located in Southwest. The massive Yukon–Kuskokwim Delta, one of the largest river deltas in the world, is here. Portions of the Alaska Peninsula are considered part of Southwest, with the remaining portions included with the Aleutian Islands (see below).

North Slope

The North Slope is mostly tundra peppered with small villages. The area is known for its massive reserves of crude oil, and contains both the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska and the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field. Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, is located here. The Northwest Arctic area, anchored by Kotzebue and also containing the Kobuk River valley, is often regarded as being part of this region. However, the respective Inupiat of the North Slope and of the Northwest Arctic seldom consider themselves to be one people.

Aleutian Islands

More than 300 small volcanic islands make up this chain, which stretches over 1,200 miles (1,900 km) into the Pacific Ocean. Some of these islands fall in the Eastern Hemisphere, but the International Date Line was drawn west of 180° to keep the whole state, and thus the entire North American continent, within the same legal day. Two of the islands, Attu and Kiska, were occupied by Japanese forces during World War II.

Natural features

See also: Wildlife of Alaska
Augustine Volcano Jan 12 2006 edited-1
Augustine Volcano erupting on January 12, 2006

With its myriad islands, Alaska has nearly 34,000 miles (54,720 km) of tidal shoreline. The Aleutian Islands chain extends west from the southern tip of the Alaska Peninsula. Many active volcanoes are found in the Aleutians and in coastal regions. Unimak Island, for example, is home to Mount Shishaldin, which is an occasionally smoldering volcano that rises to 10,000 feet (3,048 m) above the North Pacific. It is the most perfect volcanic cone on Earth, even more symmetrical than Japan's Mount Fuji. The chain of volcanoes extends to Mount Spurr, west of Anchorage on the mainland. Geologists have identified Alaska as part of Wrangellia, a large region consisting of multiple states and Canadian provinces in the Pacific Northwest, which is actively undergoing continent building.

One of the world's largest tides occurs in Turnagain Arm, just south of Anchorage – tidal differences can be more than 35 feet (10.7 m).

Alaska has more than three million lakes. Marshlands and wetland permafrost cover 188,320 square miles (487,747 km2) (mostly in northern, western and southwest flatlands). Glacier ice covers some 16,000 square miles (41,440 km2) of land and 1,200 square miles (3,110 km2) of tidal zone. The Bering Glacier complex near the southeastern border with Yukon covers 2,250 square miles (5,827 km2) alone. With over 100,000 glaciers, Alaska has half of all in the world.

Climate

Alaska climate regions USGS
Map depicting the climate zones of Alaska.

The climate in Southeast Alaska is a mid-latitude oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification: Cfb) in the southern sections and a subarctic oceanic climate (Köppen Cfc) in the northern parts. On an annual basis, Southeast is both the wettest and warmest part of Alaska with milder temperatures in the winter and high precipitation throughout the year.

The climate of Anchorage and south central Alaska is mild by Alaskan standards due to the region's proximity to the seacoast. While the area gets less rain than southeast Alaska, it gets more snow, and days tend to be clearer.

The climate of Western Alaska is determined in large part by the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. It is a subarctic oceanic climate in the southwest and a continental subarctic climate farther north. The temperature is somewhat moderate considering how far north the area is.

The climate of the interior of Alaska is subarctic.

The climate in the extreme north of Alaska is Arctic (Köppen: ET) with long, very cold winters and short, cool summers.

History

Statehood

Statehood for Alaska was an important cause of James Wickersham early in his tenure as a congressional delegate. Decades later, the statehood movement gained its first real momentum following a territorial referendum in 1946. The Alaska Statehood Committee and Alaska's Constitutional Convention would soon follow. Statehood supporters also found themselves fighting major battles against political foes, mostly in the U.S. Congress but also within Alaska. Statehood was approved by Congress on July 7, 1958. Alaska was officially proclaimed a state on January 3, 1959.

In 1960, the Census Bureau reported Alaska's population as 77.2% White, 3% Black, and 18.8% American Indian and Alaska Native.

1964 Alaska Quake Kodiak Before and After
Kodiak, before and after the tsunami which followed the Good Friday earthquake in 1964, destroying much of the townsite.

Good Friday earthquake

On March 27, 1964, the massive Good Friday earthquake killed 133 people and destroyed several villages and portions of large coastal communities, mainly by the resultant tsunamis and landslides. It was the second-most-powerful earthquake in the recorded history of the world, with a moment magnitude of 9.2. It was over one thousand times more powerful than the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. The time of day (5:36 pm), time of year and location of the epicenter were all cited as factors in potentially sparing thousands of lives, particularly in Anchorage.

Demographics

The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of Alaska was 738,432 on July 1, 2015, a 3.97% increase since the 2010 United States Census.

In 2010, Alaska ranked as the 47th state by population, ahead of North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming (and Washington, D.C.) Alaska is the least densely populated state, and one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world, at 1.2 inhabitants per square mile (0.46/km2), with the next state, Wyoming, at 5.8 inhabitants per square mile (2.2/km2). Alaska is the largest U.S. state by area, and the tenth wealthiest (per capita income). As of November 2014, the state's unemployment rate was 6.6%.

Race and ancestry

According to the 2010 United States Census, Alaska had a population of 710,231. In terms of race and ethnicity, the state was 66.7% White (64.1% Non-Hispanic White), 14.8% American Indian and Alaska Native, 5.4% Asian, 3.3% Black or African American, 1.0% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, 1.6% from Some Other Race, and 7.3% from Two or More Races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race made up 5.5% of the population.

Language

83.4% of people over the age of five speak only English at home. About 3.5% speak Spanish at home. About 2.2% speak another Indo-European language at home and about 4.3% speak an Asian language at home. About 5.3% speak other languages at home.

The Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks claims that at least 20 Alaskan native languages exist and there are also some languages with different dialects.

A total of 5.2% of Alaskans speak one of the state's 20 indigenous languages, known locally as "native languages".

Religion

Sitka - St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral
St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Cathedral in downtown Sitka.

According to statistics collected by the Association of Religion Data Archives from 2010, about 34% of Alaska residents were members of religious congregations.

100,960 people identified as Evangelical Protestants, 50,866 as Roman Catholic, and 32,550 as mainline Protestants. Roughly 4% are Mormon, 0.5% are Jewish, 1% are Muslim, 0.5% are Buddhist, and 0.5% are Hindu. The largest religious denominations in Alaska as of 2010 were the Catholic Church with 50,866 adherents, non-denominational Evangelical Protestants with 38,070 adherents, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 32,170 adherents, and the Southern Baptist Convention with 19,891 adherents. Alaska has been identified, along with Pacific Northwest states Washington and Oregon, as being the least religious states of the USA, in terms of church membership.

Estimates for the number of Muslims in Alaska range from 2,000 to 5,000. The Islamic Community Center of Anchorage began efforts in the late 1990s to construct a mosque in Anchorage. They broke ground on a building in south Anchorage in 2010 and were nearing completion in late 2014. When completed, the mosque will be the first in the state and one of the northernmost mosques in the world.

Economy

Prudhoe Bay aerial FWS
Aerial view of infrastructure at the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field.

The oil and gas industry dominates the Alaskan economy, with more than 80% of the state's revenues derived from petroleum extraction. Alaska's main export product (excluding oil and natural gas) is seafood, primarily salmon, cod, Pollock and crab.

Agriculture represents a very small fraction of the Alaskan economy. Agricultural production is primarily for consumption within the state and includes nursery stock, dairy products, vegetables, and livestock. Manufacturing is limited, with most foodstuffs and general goods imported from elsewhere.

Employment is primarily in government and industries such as natural resource extraction, shipping, and transportation. Military bases are a significant component of the economy in the Fairbanks North Star, Anchorage and Kodiak Island boroughs, as well as Kodiak. Federal subsidies are also an important part of the economy, allowing the state to keep taxes low. Its industrial outputs are crude petroleum, natural gas, coal, gold, precious metals, zinc and other mining, seafood processing, timber and wood products. There is also a growing service and tourism sector. Tourists have contributed to the economy by supporting local lodging.

Law and government

State government

Juneau, Alaska Downtown
The center of state government in Juneau. The large buildings in the background are, from left to right: the Court Plaza Building (known colloquially as the "Spam Can"), the State Office Building (behind), the Alaska Office Building, the John H. Dimond State Courthouse, and the Alaska State Capitol. Many of the smaller buildings in the foreground are also occupied by state government agencies.

Like all other U.S. states, Alaska is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: an executive branch consisting of the Governor of Alaska and the other independently elected constitutional officers; a legislative branch consisting of the Alaska House of Representatives and Alaska Senate; and a judicial branch consisting of the Alaska Supreme Court and lower courts.

The state of Alaska employs approximately 16,000 people statewide.

The Alaska Legislature consists of a 40-member House of Representatives and a 20-member Senate. Senators serve four-year terms and House members two. The Governor of Alaska serves four-year terms. The lieutenant governor runs separately from the governor in the primaries, but during the general election, the nominee for governor and nominee for lieutenant governor run together on the same ticket.

Alaska's court system has four levels: the Alaska Supreme Court, the Alaska Court of Appeals, the superior courts and the district courts. The superior and district courts are trial courts. Superior courts are courts of general jurisdiction, while district courts only hear certain types of cases, including misdemeanor criminal cases and civil cases valued up to $100,000.

Cities, towns and boroughs

See also: List of boroughs and census areas in Alaska
Anchorage1
Anchorage, Alaska, Alaska's largest city.
Fairbanks05
Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city and by a significant margin the largest city in Alaska's interior.
Downtown Juneau with Mount Juneau rising in the background
Juneau, Alaska's third-largest city and its capital.
Bethel Alaska aerial view
Bethel, the largest city in the Unorganized Borough and in rural Alaska.
Looking into the sun from over downtown onto the Homer Spit.
Homer, showing (from bottom to top) the edge of downtown, its airport and the Spit.
Barrow-Alaska-skyview
Barrow (Browerville neighborhood near Eben Hopson Middle School shown), known colloquially for many years by the nickname "Top of the World", is the northernmost city in the United States.
CordovaHillside
Cordova, built in the early 20th century to support the Kennecott Mines and the Copper River and Northwestern Railway, has persevered as a fishing community since their closure.
Downtown Talkeetna
Main Street in Talkeetna.

Alaska is not divided into counties, as most of the other U.S. states, but it is divided into boroughs. Many of the more densely populated parts of the state are part of Alaska's 16 boroughs, which function somewhat similarly to counties in other states. However, unlike county-equivalents in the other 49 states, the boroughs do not cover the entire land area of the state. The area not part of any borough is referred to as the Unorganized Borough.

The Unorganized Borough has no government of its own, but the U.S. Census Bureau in cooperation with the state divided the Unorganized Borough into 11 census areas solely for the purposes of statistical analysis and presentation.

The state's most populous city is Anchorage, home to 278,700 people in 2006, 225,744 of whom live in the urbanized area. The richest location in Alaska by per capita income is Halibut Cove ($89,895). Yakutat City, Sitka, Juneau, and Anchorage are the four largest cities in the U.S. by area.

Culture

Iditarod Ceremonial start in Anchorage, Alaska
A dog team in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, arguably the most popular winter event in Alaska.

Some of Alaska's popular annual events are the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that starts in Anchorage and ends in Nome, World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, the Blueberry Festival and Alaska Hummingbird Festival in Ketchikan, the Sitka Whale Fest, and the Stikine River Garnet Fest in Wrangell. The Stikine River attracts the largest springtime concentration of American bald eagles in the world.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center celebrates the rich heritage of Alaska's 11 cultural groups. Their purpose is to encourage cross-cultural exchanges among all people and enhance self-esteem among Native people. The Alaska Native Arts Foundation promotes and markets Native art from all regions and cultures in the State, using the internet.

Music

Influences on music in Alaska include the traditional music of Alaska Natives as well as folk music brought by later immigrants from Russia and Europe. Prominent musicians from Alaska include singer Jewel, traditional Aleut flautist Mary Youngblood, folk singer-songwriter Libby Roderick, Christian music singer-songwriter Lincoln Brewster, metal/post hardcore band 36 Crazyfists and the groups Pamyua and Portugal. The Man.

There are many established music festivals in Alaska, including the Alaska Folk Festival, the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, the Anchorage Folk Festival], the Athabascan Old-Time Fiddling Festival, the Sitka Jazz Festival, and the Sitka Summer Music Festival. The most prominent orchestra in Alaska is the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, though the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra and Juneau Symphony are also notable. The Anchorage Opera is currently the state's only professional opera company, though there are several volunteer and semi-professional organizations in the state as well.

State symbols

2008-05-04 at 18-26-44-Forgetmenot-Flower
The forget-me-not is the state's official flower and bears the same blue and gold as the state flag.
  • State motto: North to the Future
  • Nicknames: "The Last Frontier" or "Land of the Midnight Sun" or "Seward's Icebox"
  • State bird: willow ptarmigan, adopted by the Territorial Legislature in 1955. It is a small (15–17 in or 380–430 mm) Arctic grouse that lives among willows and on open tundra and muskeg. Plumage is brown in summer, changing to white in winter. The willow ptarmigan is common in much of Alaska.
  • State fish: king salmon, adopted 1962.
  • State flower: wild/native forget-me-not, adopted by the Territorial Legislature in 1917. It is a perennial that is found throughout Alaska, from Hyder to the Arctic Coast, and west to the Aleutians.
  • State fossil: woolly mammoth, adopted 1986.
  • State gem: jade, adopted 1968.
  • State insect: four-spot skimmer dragonfly, adopted 1995.
  • State land mammal: moose, adopted 1998.
  • State marine mammal: bowhead whale, adopted 1983.
  • State mineral: gold, adopted 1968.
  • State song: "Alaska's Flag"
  • State sport: dog mushing, adopted 1972.
  • State tree: Sitka spruce, adopted 1962.
  • State dog: Alaskan Malamute, adopted 2010.
  • State soil: Tanana, adopted unknown.

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