Located in the northwest corner of North America, Alaska (“The Last Frontier”) is the largest, yet least-densely populated U.S. state. Alaska’s population is 731,449 according to the latest census data, making it the 4th least populated state. Around half of Alaska’s residents live in or close to Anchorage, in the south-central area of the state. Alaska became the 49th U.S. state on January 3, 1959, about 82 years after it was purchased from Russia for $7.2 million. Alaska’s economy is ranked 45th in the country, and is dominated by the oil, natural gas, and fishing industries.
Geography & Climate of Alaska
Alaska’s land area is 586,412 square miles, which is over twice the size of Texas, and it’s coastline is longer than every other U.S. state combined. The state’s capital, Juneau, is located in the Panhandle, or southeast area of Alaska. It is bordered by Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south. The Aleutian Islands extend into the eastern hemisphere, technically making Alaska the westernmost, easternmost, and northernmost state of the United States.
The general temperature in Alaska is rather cool with extremely cold winters and sometimes very hot but short summers. The lowest temperature ever recorded in the state was −80 °F (−62.2 °C) on the 23rd of January in 1971, in the uninhabited settlement of Prospect Creek. The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was 100 °F (37.8 °C) which was reached in the city of Fort Yukon, on June 27, 1915. The different regions of Alaska receive varied precipitation averages, from less than 10 inches per year on the Seward Peninsula to upwards of 275 inches per year in southeast Alaska. Thunderstorms are somewhat rare throughout the state, yet they are frequent in the interior area of the state during the summer months, sometimes causing wildfires.
Basic History of Alaska
Several different indigenous tribes lived throughout Alaska centuries before the first European settlers arrived. An example is the aggressive Haida people, who practiced slavery and were particularly feared in sea battles due to their massive ocean canoes and weapons specially designed for sea battles. Other examples were the Tlingit and Tsimshian people, all of which were decimated by smallpox outbreaks. The Aleut people, the first of the Native Alaskans to be exploited by Russians, were largely responsible for the demise of the Nicoleño people of the Alta California/Baja California area- a violent battle arose after some disagreements regarding sea otters that the Aleuts were killing for their pelts.
Alaska’s first permanent European settlement was founded in 1784 after Russian expeditions returned from Alaska with sea otter pelts which became highly prized. The city of Sitka, which was named New Archangel from 1804-1867 was the capitol of Russian America and remained so even when the colony was later transferred to the United States. In 1906, the capital was moved from Sitka to Juneau. Sitka was the sole home of American settlers for the majority of Alaska’s first decade as a U.S. state.
The “Good Friday” earthquake on March 27, 1964 did much damage to Alaska’s villages. Killing 133 people, the earthquake’s magnitude was a massive 9.2, which is over a thousand times stronger than the 1989 San Francisco earthquake and the largest ever recorded in North America. The earthquake caused large vertical displacements which resulted in a devastating tsunami.
Culture of Alaska
Possibly Alaska’s most famous event is the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Beginning in Anchorage and ending in Nome, the race is over 1150 miles long. Complaints about the safety of the sled dogs are frequent, with animal rights activists claiming that the dogs are pushed beyond their limits. For the most part, though, the race is very popular and attracts countless tourists each year.
The most prominent religious groups in Alaska are the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptists, Russian Orthodox Church (counting many converted Aleut parishioners), Orthodox Church in America and Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).
Though English is obviously the official language, when Alaska became a state, there were 20 indigenous languages spoken within its borders but researchers believe that when contact was first made with native people by Europeans, as many as 400 distinct languages were spoken. Eskimo-Aleut and Northern Athabaskan languages have complex vocabularies and are still spoken by small, isolated groups of Native Americans.
Alaskan Natives have a strong influence on the state’s music culture. Some popular music festivals in the state are the Sitka Summer Music Festival, which lasts the whole month of June; the Alaska Folk Festival, which is a week long and takes place in Juneau; and the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. Several popular movies were filmed in Alaska, including White Fang and Insomnia.
Plans for construction of the world’s longest tunnel have been approved this week by the government of Russia which will be transcontinental and link Russia and Alaska via a tunnel more than twice the length of the British-French Chunnel. The Russia/Siberia-to-Alaska tunnel will be a 65-mile railway that promises to deliver natural resources to Canada and the United States as well as being crucial to transmitting as much as 10 gigawatts of tidal and wind power across vast areas of North America. Speculated to cost as much as $12 billion, the construction project would be private and take at least 15 years to complete.
We will be publishing current demographics data for Alaska as well as a new detailed map and the latest population and census information as it becomes available in late 2013 or early 2014.