Chapter 2. The Last Frontier

(The narrator of this story is a Canada Goose named Tutangiaq, unless specified otherwise)

First owned by Russia, Alaska was purchased by the United States of America in 1867 for $7.2 million. This equates to, roughly, two cents an acre, where an acre is about half the size of a football field. Originally, many considered the purchase to be a "folly" (a reckless act), but it has proved to be a wise investment because of the state's rich resources. Alaska became the 49th state in 1959, and it adopted the nickname "The Last Frontier" for its rugged environment and its isolation from the "Lower 48" states. (Graphic showing Russia, Alaska, Canada Goose, hand shake and the original purchase check - more information 2.1).

Alaska has a population of fewer than 650,000 people. The state has a population density of just over one person per square mile.

Click on a red dot to learn more about an important location in the state. (red dot 1, red dot 2, red dot 3, red dot 4, red dot 5, red dot 6) You will see a color composite image made from data acquired by the Landsat satellite. (more information 2.2)

Alaska is such a huge state! If you were to imagine it positioned over the Lower 48, Alaska would stretch from the Atlantic Ocean across the continent to the Pacific Ocean. Try comparing Alaska to individual states! (Interactivity 2.1)

Normally my family and distant relatives fly from several parts of the lower 48 states and nest in various parts of Canada and Alaska. I will take a scenic route to show you my favorite state!

More information and interactivity in Chapter 2

More information 2.1:
On August 1, 1868 this check was issued to Edouard de Stoeckl, Russian Minister to the United States. For $7.2 million the United States acquired the Alaska territory.(Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

More information 2.2:
Remote sensing color composite images.
Remote sensing images can be very colorful. Some color images look natural and are called natural color composites. On such images, trees look green, clouds look white and shadows look black.

On other images, the colors of objects can be made to look completely different from what they are in real life. Such images are called false color composites. In remote sensing, a very commonly used false color composite is one in which healthy green trees look red. This is called a standard false color composite.

False color composites are used to highlight different Earth materials and are therefore very useful for remote sensing studies.

Red dot 1: Barrow
Barrow is located on the northernmost point in the United States. This city is 340 miles north of the Arctic Circle. In Barrow, the sun doesn't set for 84 days in the summer. The sun doesn't rise for 64 days in the winter!

(Satellite image of Barrow). Barrow is surrounded by the Arctic Ocean and many lakes. This makes the North Slope (the northern part of Alaska) look like Swiss cheese. Some of the lakes and the Arctic Ocean are partially frozen appearing as bright whitish blue colors. Point Barrow, the northernmost point in Alaska, can be clearly seen where the spit juts out into the ocean.

Red dot 2: Prudhoe Bay
Prudhoe Bay (Proo-dough Bay) is located on the North Slope of Alaska. This city is primarily an industrial town. Prudhoe Bay marks the end of the Dalton Highway and the beginning of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

(Satellite image of Prudhoe Bay). This is a satellite image of Prudhoe Bay and the surrounding area. On the image you can see small scattered rectangular structures in bright cream and black colors. These are oil pumping stations with gravel pads and drilling platforms. The bright lines with angular bends are roads connecting the stations. Around the Prudhoe Bay area are many black patches, which are lakes. Some of the lakes are partially frozen appearing as blue spots. It is interesting to note that these lakes change their boundary and shape with time. Two neighboring lakes may grow and merge. Lakes close to the ocean may also have their sea edge eroded away forming a new bay.

Red dot 3: Fairbanks
The state's second largest city, Fairbanks is located 150 miles below the Arctic Circle and was founded during the gold rush days in interior Alaska.

(Satellite image of Fairbanks). This image is of the Fairbanks city and its surroundings. Buildings and other structures show up in shades of mauve (pinkish-purple), while vegetation is green. The large river at the bottom of the image is the famous Tanana river. The smaller winding river passing through the city is the Chena River.

Red dot 4: Denali National Park and Preserve
Originally established in 1917 as a wildlife refuge, Denali is the fourth largest national park in the nation and home to North America's tallest mountain, Mt. McKinley.

(Satellite image of Denali National Park and Preserve). This satellite image of the Denali National Park area was taken in August 2000. Glaciers appear in shades of blue. Mt. McKinley is in the upper middle part of this image. North America's tallest peak, Mt. McKinley measures 20,320 feet. Of America's 20 tallest mountains, 17 are in Alaska, and of America's 10 largest parks, 9 are in Alaska. (a photograph of Mt. McKinley is included).

Red dot 5: Anchorage
Anchorage is, by far, the largest city in Alaska. It has 41.5% of the state's total population, or slightly more than 260,000 people.

(Satellite image of Anchorage). This is a 'false color' image of Anchorage. The colors are called "false" because surface features appear very different than we usually observe in reality. On the image, vegetation (trees, grass, shrubs, etc.) appears in different shades of red. Man-made objects (buildings and roads) appear in cyan-blue shades. The rectangular buildings arranged in systematic rows along roads give a typical checkered pattern to the image, which is characteristic of any big city.

Red dot 6: Juneau
The state capital, Juneau (Joo-no) is situated on Alaska's pan-handle. Although it is Alaska's third largest city, Juneau lacks road access like many other remote areas in the state.

(Satellite image of Juneau). On this satellite image of Juneau and its surroundings, the city's historical center appears in the bottom right corner of the image. More buildings and developed areas appear around the center of the image. Bodies of water appear as dark blue or black, while the mountains are colored purple. The fluffy patches of white/cream are clouds that were present when the image was taken. The dark spots next to them are their shadows. Clouds, such as the ones in this image, hide parts of the surface, which can be a challenge for scientists.

Interactivity 2.1
Comparison of the size of Alaska with contiguous US states and each individual state (comparison based on total state area, land and water).

A drop down menu lets the user select a state of their choice. A graphics showing that particular state overlaid on the State of Alaska appears, which shows the relative sizes of the two states. A numeric comparative relation also appears. This comparison is based on total state area (including land and water). This relationship for Alaska and the various US states is as follows:

5 times Alaska = Lower 48 states
Alaska = 12.5 times Alabama
Alaska = 5.8 times Arizona
Alaska = 12.3 times Arkansas
Alaska = 4.0 times California
Alaska = 6.3 times Colorado
Alaska = 118.4 times Connecticut
Alaska = 263.7 times Delaware
Alaska = 10.0 times Florida
Alaska = 11.0 times Georgia
Alaska = 60.0 times Hawaii
Alaska = 7.9 times Idaho
Alaska = 11.3 times Illinois
Alaska = 18.0 times Indiana
Alaska = 11.7 times Iowa
Alaska = 8.0 times Kansas
Alaska = 16.2 times Kentucky
Alaska = 12.7 times Louisiana
Alaska = 18.5 times Maine
Alaska = 52.9 times Maryland
Alaska = 62.2 times Massachusetts
Alaska = 6.8 times Michigan
Alaska = 7.6 times Minnesota
Alaska = 13.6 times Mississippi
Alaska = 9.4 times Missouri
Alaska = 4.5 times Montana
Alaska = 8.5 times Nebraska
Alaska = 5.9 times Nevada
Alaska = 70.2 times New Hampshire
Alaska = 75.3 times New Jersey
Alaska = 5.4 times New Mexico
Alaska = 12.1 times New York
Alaska = 12.2 times North Carolina
Alaska = 9.3 times North Dakota
Alaska = 14.6 times Ohio
Alaska = 9.4 times Oklahoma
Alaska = 6.7 times Oregon
Alaska = 14.3 times Pennsylvania
Alaska = 424.9 times Rhode Island
Alaska = 20.5 times South Carolina
Alaska = 8.5 times South Dakota
Alaska = 15.6 times Tennessee
Alaska = 2.4 times Texas
Alaska = 7.7 times Utah
Alaska = 68.3 times Vermont
Alaska = 15.3 times Virginia
Alaska = 9.2 times Washington
Alaska = 27.1 times West Virginia
Alaska = 10.0 times Wisconsin
Alaska = 6.7 times Wyoming

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