King Island, Bering Sea

King Island, Bering Sea

by | Nov 23, 2021

King Island is about 1.7 miles (2.7 km) long and 1.4 miles (2.3 km) wide with steep rocky cliffs on all sides and a summit elevation of about 1,050 feet (320 m), located in the northern Bering Sea, about 86 miles (139 km) northwest of Nome, and 44 miles (71 km) south of Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska. The Bering Sea was named for Vitus Bering, a Danish navigator in Russian service, who was the first European to systematically explore the area in 1728. In 1732, Russian surveyor Mikhail Gvozdev was the first European to discover King Island. The island appears as ‘Okibian’ on Russian charts from 1743. In 1778, Captain James Cook named the island after Lieutenant James King. King joined HMS Resolution as the second lieutenant, sharing the duties of astronomer with Cook, taking observations onboard by sextant to establish the ship’s position at sea, and onshore by sextant or by astronomical quadrant to establish the geographical position of significant coastal features. King’s geographical positions were an important contribution to the accuracy of the various surveys carried out during the voyage and his use of the early chronometers helped prove their use at sea for the calculation of longitude. In 1791, Ivan Kobelev was the first European to go ashore on the island. The Iñupiat name for the island was reported to be “Ukiwuk” by Edward W. Nelson of the U.S. Signal Service in 1900, and today the name is rendered as ‘Ukivok’, which is translated as ‘place for winter’. This refers to the King Islander’s practice of traveling every summer to the mainland by kayak and umiak and remaining for a few months. When Nome was founded in 1898, they customarily camped near the town where they sold ivory carvings and worked jobs as longshoremen or general laborers. The cash income derived from summer jobs in Nome allowed them to purchase basic goods such as flour, and the gasoline and ammunition used in their subsistence lifestyle, one which still depended entirely on the success of the village hunters. Today, the island is no longer inhabited and is part of the Bering Sea unit of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

The Bering Sea is a marginal sea of the North Pacific Ocean that forms the divide between Asia and North America at the Bering Strait. It is widely accepted that at numerous times in the past, sea level has lowered and the Bering Strait became emergent, forming the Bering Land Bridge, or Beringia, connecting Asia and North America. The Bering Sea is comprised of the deepwater Aleutian Basin in the southwest, which rises across a narrow slope to a shallow continental shelf in the northeast. The Aleutian Basin is a remnant of the Kula Plate that consists of oceanic rock that was mostly subducted under the North American Plate. The Kula Plate was entirely subducted around 48 million years ago and today only a slab under the Bering Sea remains. The continental shelf of the Bering Sea represents ancient accreted terranes that adhered to the North American Plate as the Kula Plate was being subducted. The northern shelf of the Bering Sea is formed by the York terrane or terrace. The outer shelf is underlain by three large basins filled with sedimentary rocks, and the inner shelf, which is most of Norton Sound, is underlain by the large sediment-filled Norton basin. These shelf basins are features that developed during the Cenozoic after the amalgamation of Alaska at the end of the Mesozoic. Plate motion along the Bering Sea margin apparently ceased sometime in the Tertiary when the plate boundary shifted from the Bering Sea mar­gin to a site near the present Aleutian Trench. Cessation of the plate motion isolated and deactivated the Bering Sea margin thereby trapping a large section of the Kula Plate within the abyssal Bering Sea. In the early Tertiary, the margin was subjected to defor­mation and subsidence, which continued through­out the Cenozoic, forming the basins that subsequently filled with sediments. These structures are now buried in places by sedimentary layers that may form traps for migrating hydrocarbons. During the late Cretaceous, these deep sediments were intruded by plutons.

The islands offshore of the Seward Peninsula in the Bering Sea such as King Island, Sledge Island near Nome, Fairway Rock, and Little Diomede, are granitic plutons that formed during the Cretaceous and are extremely resistant to erosion. In geology, a pluton is a body of intrusive igneous rock that slowly crystallized from magma cooling below the Earth’s surface. A pluton forms a distinctive mass typically several kilometers in dimension. Specific types of plutons include batholiths, stocks, dikes, and sills. Denali, in the Alaska Range, is an example of a large pluton. King Island, Little Diomede Island, and Sledge Island are small plutons made of biotitehornblende quartz monzonites or granites that may have formed between about 112 and 85 million years ago. The granite of the King Island pluton has extremely variable accessory mineralogy and is of similar age and lithology as other plutons of the York Terrane in the Bering Strait and on the western Seward Peninsula. During the Pleistocene, the northern Bering Sea was subjected to several glacial episodes when enough of the earth’s water became frozen in the great polar ice sheets covering North America and Europe to cause a drop in sea levels. For thousands of years, the sea floors of many interglacial shallow seas were exposed, including those of the Bering Strait, the Chukchi Sea to the north, and the Bering Sea to the south. At certain times in prehistory, the drop in sea level formed a land bridge that was up to 620 miles (1,000 km) wide at its greatest extent, allowing migrations between Asia and North America, and biogeographical evidence demonstrates several genetic connections associated with these episodes. Today, the only land that is visible from the central part of the Bering Land Bridge includes the Diomede Islands, the Pribilof Islands of St. Paul and St. George, St. Lawrence Island, and King Island. Read more here and here. Explore more of King Island here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

Please report any errors here

error: Content is protected !!