This Island is the Westernmost Point of the United States

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Located at the very tip of the chain of islands known as the Aleutian Islands lies Attu Island. The Aleutian Islands contains 14 large volcanic islands and 55 smaller islands that extend in an arc in the Bering Sea off the coast of the mainland of Alaska towards northeastern Russia.

Most of this island chain is part of U.S. territory but a few of the islands fall within the jurisdiction of  Kamchatka Krai, a Russian federal subject. The delineation of the border between Russia and the United States in this area was set in a convention on March 30, 1867. The Russian Commander Islands, located west of Attu are 335 km (208 miles) away.

The very last island in the US-own part of the Aleutian Islands is Attu Island which lies 1,700 kilometers (1,100 miles) from mainland Alaska.

Map showing the location of Attu Island.  Map: Cropped from the Equal Earth Physical Map, public domain.
Map showing the location of Attu Island. Map: Cropped from the Equal Earth Physical Map, public domain.

The westernmost part of the United States by longitude is Amatignak Island (51°15′44″N 179°06′31″W) and the easternmost by longitude is Semisopochnoi Island (51°57′05″N 179°36′03″E).

Attu island lies at a coordinate of 52.2°N 174.2°W, making it the point in the United States that is the furthest west relative to the rest of the country. Attu lies farther west from the continental United States than the Hawaiian Islands.

Attu Island lies east of the Prime Meridian and west of the International Date Line (IDL) which has been adjusted in this area to keep all of the Alaska owned part of the Aleutian Islands in one time zone (UTC−10).

The Russian owned islands in the Aleutian island chain are on the other side of the IDL and therefore are separated by one calendar day from Attu.

Topography and Climate of Attu Island

Attu Island is 344.7 sq mi (893 sq km) in area. The island’s dimensions are 32 by 56 kilometers (20 by 35 miles).

Its highest point is Attu Mountain with an elevation of 2,946 ft (897.9 m). The topography of Attu island rugged and treeless.

A panoramic view looking northwest up Henderson Valley to Jarmin Pass. Photo: Lisa Hupp/USFWS, August 23, 2017.
A panoramic view looking northwest up Henderson Valley to Jarmin Pass. Photo: Lisa Hupp/USFWS, August 23, 2017.

Even during the height of the summer, Attu Island is covered in snow at the higher elevations.

The weather in Attu is usually cloudy and foggy. Rain is a near daily occurrence with only about 8-10 clear days a year. The island receives 39–49 inches (990–1,240 mm) of rainfall per year.

High winds occasionally occur. Sunny days on Attu are rare.

This satellite image from NASA was taken onJuly 4, 2000 and shows the snow-capped topography of the island.

Attu Island, Alaska, July 4, 2000.  Source: NASA Terra Satellite, public domain.
Attu Island, Alaska, July 4, 2000. Source: NASA Terra Satellite, public domain.

Ring of Fire

The island of Attu has no active volcanoes but is part of the region known as the “Ring of Fire.” This region is an area of frequent seismic and volcanic activity encircling the Pacific Ocean. 

Largest Uninhabited Island in the United States

In 2010, the Alaska Coast Guard vacated Attu island after running a LORAN station, long range navigation, for 70 years on the island. Advances in GPS technology made LORAN obsolete. When it became unihabited in 2010, it became the largest uninhabited island in the United States.

Site of the Only US Land Battle During World War II

Attu Island also has the distinction of being the only place in the United States that experienced a land battle during World War II.

Prior to the start of World War II, the island of Attu had about 40 Aleut natives.

This 1937 negative by O.J. Murie shows the Attu Village in Chichagof harbour.  Source: Library of Congress.
This 1937 negative by O.J. Murie shows the Attu Village in Chichagof harbour. Source: Library of Congress.

The Battle of Attu occurred between May 11 – 30, 1943 between the US (aided by Canadian allies) and Japan. Japanese forces had invaded the island of Attu in June of 1942, holding its inhabitants captive until its recaptured by the US after the battle.

This negative captures US soldiers landing at  Massacre Bay on Attu Island on May 11, 1943.  Source: Library of Congress.
This negative captures US soldiers landing at Massacre Bay on Attu Island on May 11, 1943. Source: Library of Congress.

The inhabitants of Attu were held by the Japanese in Hokkaido for the duration of the war under horrific conditions. Almost half of them died from starvation and malnutrition. The survivors were not allowed to return to Attu and were sent to Atka Island in the Aleutian chain.

Birding on Attu Island

Attu Island is considered a highly desirable birding location due to the ability to see vagrant birds from Asia has become a difficult place to visit since the closure of the Coast Guard station.

Attu Island provides significant nesting habitat to the Aleutian Cackling Geese, a once threatened bird species. The population of these small-sized geese has increased from less than 800 in 1974 to more than 200,000 birds today thanks to mitigation efforts such as the removal of foxes from several of the Aleutian Islands.

Aleutian Cackling geese, Attu Island, Alaska (Photo by Dena O'Dell, USACE-Alaska District Public Affairs)
Aleutian Cackling geese, Attu Island, Alaska. Photo by Dena O’Dell, USACE-Alaska District Public Affairs, public domain.

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