Mueller Cove, Umnak Island

Mueller Cove, Umnak Island

by | Jul 29, 2021

Mueller Cove provides a protected landing for the village of Nikolski at the head of Nikolski Bay, on the northern shore and at the southwestern end of Umnak Island in the eastern Aleutian Islands, about 338 miles (544 km) east-northeast of Adak and 116 miles (187 km) southwest of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Umnak Island is one of the Fox Islands and is the third-largest island in the Aleutian archipelago. The island is volcanic and dominated by Mount Okmok at the northeastern end and Mount Vsevidof at the southern end of the island. Mueller Cove was named for Karl Mueller, a coxswain on a U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey vessel who along with crewman Maurice Rudisell were killed when their survey launch struck Rudisell Reef at the entrance to the cove on May 28, 1938. In 1938, there were at least four geodetic survey ships working in the eastern Aleutians including Surveyor, Pioneer, Discoverer, and Guide. The village of Nikolski is located on a narrow isthmus between Umnak Lake and Mueller Cove. Based on evidence collected from a prehistoric archaeological site called Chaluka located at the village of Nikolski, the area has been continuously occupied for more than 4,000 years. The Chaluka site includes a large midden that has provided much information about the origins of the Aleut Unangan people.

Umnak Island was first reached by independent Russian fur traders in the 1750s and developed as a base for sea otter hunting. In the early 1900s, a boom in fox farming occurred and in 1926 a sheep ranch was established by the Aleutian Livestock Company that also introduced reindeer, horses, and cattle. In June 1942 during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Unalaska to the east and seized Attu and Kiska Islands to the west. Residents of Umnak Island were evacuated on the USS Delarof for internment at Ward Cove near Ketchikan in Southeast Alaska. In 1944, Nikolski villagers were allowed to return. In 1958, the U.S. Air Force built a Distant Early Warning Line defense system on High Hill at 725 feet (221 m), about 12 miles (19 km) north of Nikolski, and a White Alice communication facility on Cape Starr about 20 miles (32 km) west of Nikolski.  A U.S. Coast Guard LORAN navigation station was colocated with the White Alice station. The Nikolski Air Station, a gravel runway 3,500 feet (1 km) long was also constructed to support these facilities. In 1965, a Reeve Air Aleutian DC-3 stalled and crashed after a sudden wind gust caused a premature lift on takeoff. The aircraft landed intact and no one was injured, but it was abandoned and remains at the west end of the runway. The DEW Line station was closed in 1969 and the site was remediated in 1998. The White Alice communication facility continued operating until 1977. The runway continues to be used at an Essential Air Service for the village of Nikolski since there is no all-weather harbor.

Mueller Cove is the only protected embayment on Umnak Island, and only in relatively calm weather. An extensive wave eroded platform over 700 feet (213 m) wide at low tide terminates at Rudisell Reef and forms the cove. A series of basalt rings in the platform are likely the result of concentric cooling within ancient lava vents. These vents may have been dome-shaped during formation and were subsequently eroded flat by wave erosion during past sea level fluctuations. The main factors affecting sea level fluctuations are the amount and volume of available water and the shape and volume of the ocean basins. The primary influences on water volume are the temperature of the seawater, which affects density, and the amounts of water retained in other reservoirs like rivers, aquifers, lakes, and particularly glaciers and polar ice caps. Over geologic time, sea level has fluctuated by more than 980 feet (300 m), and possibly more than 1300 feet (400 m). For example, during the last Pleistocene ice age, Umnak Island was covered by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet that dominated the northwestern portion of North America. This made the area unsuitable for both animal and human habitation until the ice sheet began to recede about 10-12,000 years ago. Post-glacial rebound, also called isostatic rebound or crustal rebound is the rise of land masses after the removal of the huge weight of ice sheets during the last glacial period. This caused the wave eroded platforms to emerge and provided neolithic humans with an important source of food as shown by the shell middens at the historical Chaluka site at Nikolski. Read more here and here. Explore more of Mueller Cove and Nikolski Bay here:

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