Alaska’s Coastline is Longer Than All the Other 49 States Combined

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As the largest state in the United States, Alaska is home to many geographical superlatives. Alaska is home to the United States’ northernmost (Point Barrow), easternmost (Pochnoi Point on Semisopochnoi Island in the Aleutians), and westernmost (Amatignak Island in the Aleutians) points.

Alaska is has the highest mountain, the most lakes. Alaska contains more active glaciers and ice fields than the rest of the inhabited globe, with an estimated 100,000.

No matter how you measure it, Alaska also boasts the longest coastline in the United States. Here are some geography facts about Alaska’s coast.

Longest Coastline in the United States

While the mainland of Alaska alone places the state at the top of the rankings for longest coastline, the more than 2,600 name islands of Alaska is why the coastline of Alaska is greater than all the other states combined. Alaska is the U.S. state with the most islands with 2,670.

Coastal shorelines, Cape Espenberg, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Seward Peninsula. Photo: USGS, public domain.
Coastal shorelines, Cape Espenberg, Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, Seward Peninsula. Photo: USGS, public domain.

Alaska has 6,640 miles of coastline and, including islands, has 33,904 miles of shoreline. The estimated tidal shoreline, which includes islands, inlets and shoreline to head of tidewater, is 47,300 miles.

(What is the difference between a shoreline and a coastline? The contour, outline, or boundary of a coast is known as the coastline, whereas the shoreline is the boundary between land and water.)

Alaska coastline faces the North Pacific Ocean, Bering Sea, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, and the Arctic Ocean. Alaska is the only state that borders two different oceans.

Cropped Equal Earth map showing the location of the state of Alaska. Source: Equal Earth Political Map, public domain.
Cropped Equal Earth map showing the location of the state of Alaska. Source: Equal Earth Political Map, public domain.

3,095 miles of Alaska’s coastlines are protected within parks. 

Geology of Alaska’s Coastlines

Fault tectonics, volcanism, glacial, fluvial processes, sea level variations, and yearly sea ice have all played a role in shaping Alaska’s coastal geology.

Rugged, rocky coastal sections with sheltered fjords characterize the southeast portion of Alaska’s coast. It’s ice-free for the most part.

At Cape Halkett on Alaska's Beaufort Sea coast, ice-wedge polygons and a receding shoreline can be seen in this photograph from the USGS.
At Cape Halkett on Alaska’s Beaufort Sea coast, ice-wedge polygons and a receding shoreline can be seen in this photograph from the USGS. Photo: Bruce Richmond/Ann Gibbs, USGS. Public domain

Accelerated by climate change, coastal erosion along the Arctic coast is chronic, widespread, and likely to worsen, posing a threat to critical defense and energy infrastructure, natural shoreline habitats, and local Native people.

Barrier Islands

While there are no barrier islands along the West Coast, Alaska’s Arctic Ocean coastlines have 272 barrier islands, accounting for 12.7 percent of the world’s inventory, according to a 2011 study.

During a major Arctic storm in September 2016, an adult polar bear walks across a recently overwashed barrier island just offshore of Barter Island on Alaska north coast. During the day, polar bears rest on the barrier islands before heading to Barter Island's "bone pile" in the evenings to feast on whale carcass scraps supplied by local village whaling efforts. Photo: Cordell Johnson, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. Public domain.
During a major Arctic storm in September 2016, an adult polar bear walks across a recently overwashed barrier island just offshore of Barter Island on Alaska north coast. During the day, polar bears rest on the barrier islands before heading to Barter Island’s “bone pile” in the evenings to feast on whale carcass scraps supplied by local village whaling efforts. Photo: Cordell Johnson, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. Public domain.

Cloudiest Region in the United States

The south coast of Alaska also has the distinction of being America’s cloudiest region, with some locations averaging more than 340 gloomy days each year. The cloudiest month in Cold Bay, Alaska is August with an average of 94.7% cloud cover.

Animal Life Along Alaska’s Coastlines

The Alexander Archipelago Wolf (also known as the Islands Wolf) dwells in a remote part of Alaska. This little grey coastal wolf inhabits the Alexander Archipelago islands as well as a section of coastline separated by the Coast Mountains.

Map showing the assumed range of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf assembled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  Map source: Federal Register 81 FR 435, 2016.
Map showing the assumed range of the Alexander Archipelago Wolf assembled by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Map source: Federal Register 81 FR 435, 2016.

No other species of geese breeds as far north as the Pacific Brant which has breeding grounds along the coastal tundra of Alaska and Canada.

Pacific brant family on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska.
Pacific brant family on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska. Photo: Jeff Wasley, USGS. Public domain.

Arctic fox, polar bears, and grizzly bears are some of the predators that hunt along Alaska’s coastlines.

An arctic fox in it's white winter phase. Photo taken on the northern coast of Alaska.
An arctic fox in it’s white winter phase. Photo taken on the northern coast of Alaska. Photo: Mike Lockart, USGS. Public domain.

The Pacific Walrus can be found along the mainland coast and islands of Russia and Alaska.

Pacific walruses can be found in the comparatively shallow waters of the northern Bering and Chukchi seas, as well as the Eastern Siberian and Beaufort seas on rare occasions. Walruses can be found in the Bering Sea from the Bering Strait to Bristol Bay in the east, and as far south as the Kamchatka Peninsula in the west. They also use island haulouts in the Pribilof Islands and near St. Lawrence Island.

At Cape Grieg in southeastern Bristol Bay, more than 1,500 walruses can be seen resting on the beach.
At Cape Grieg in southeastern Bristol Bay, more than 1,500 walruses can be seen resting on the beach. Photo: Sarah Schoen, USGS, Alaska Science Center. Public domain.

Multiple species of whales can be seen in the waters off the coasts of Alaska. Humpback, fin, blue, minke, and gray whales live in more southern waters, whereas belugas and bowhead whales live in the Arctic and subarctic.

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