des Instituts für Geodäsie

Heft 50/1997

Alaska *

Maynard M. MILLER

In: WELSCH, Walter M. / LANG, Martin / MILLER, Maynard M. (Hrsg.) [1997]:
Geodetic Activities Juneau Icefield, Alaska, 1981-1996.
Schriftenreihe des Studiengangs Vermessungswesen der Universität der Bundeswehr München, Heft 50, Neubiberg, S. 15-26.

1. Introduction

When it became the 49th state of the United States on January 3, 1959, Alaska increased the nation's size by nearly 20 per cent. The new area included vast stretches of unexplored land and untapped resources. When Secretary of State William H. Seward negotiated its purchase from Russia in 1867, however, Alaska was known as Seward's Folly. Its settlement and exploitation have been hindered by its distance from the rest of the nation and by geographic and climatic impediments to travel and communications; Alaska continues to be the country's last frontier. More than half of the state's inhabitants live in the Greater Anchorage area. The capital is Juneau, 922 kilometers to the southeast in the panhandle region.

Alaska lies at the extreme northwest of the North American continent and is the largest peninsula on the Western Hemisphere. Its 1,530,700 square kilometers include some 38,830 square kilometers of fjords and inlets, and its three faces to the sea have about 54,400 kilometers of indented tidal coastline and 10,620 total kilometers of coast fronting the open sea. It borders the Arctic Ocean on the north and northwest, the Bering Strait and the Bering Sea on the west, and the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of Alaska on the south. The land boundaries on the east cut across some 1,850 kilometers of high mountains to separate the state from the Canadian Yukon Territory and British Columbia province. Rimming the state on the south is one of the Earth's most active earthquake belts. In the Alaska Range north of Anchorage, Mount McKinley (Denali), at 6,194 meters, is the highest peak in North America.

The question of development versus preservation has been heightened by commercial and ecological uses of land: the Alaska Highway gas-pipeline project, native Alaskans' land claims, noncommercial whaling by native peoples, and related matters. The conflicts between conservationists and petroleum companies over the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which runs from the oil-rich North Slope on the Arctic Ocean to Valdez in the south, was a continuation of the century-long effort to find a balance between conservation and development in this enormous land.

* Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th Edition, Vol. 29, Encyclopedia Britannica
  International, London [1990], p. 188 and p. 431-435.


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