Tutka River, Kachemak Bay

Tutka River, Kachemak Bay

by | Oct 3, 2022

Tutka River starts from an elevation of about 2800 feet (853 m) on the western flank of the Kenai Mountains and flows generally west to the head of Tutka Bay, a fjord on the southern coast of Kachemak Bay, about 18 miles (29 km) southeast of Homer and 15 miles (24 km) east of Seldovia, Alaska. The tidal estuary at the head of Tutka Bay is a glacial outwash plain where two unnamed streams merge. These streams are each about 7.5 miles (12 km) long and originate from cirques and snowfields which are remnants of a once-massive icefield called the Southern Glacier on historical charts. Tutka River is a local name derived from the name of the fjord. The bedrock underlying the watershed comprises rocks of the McHugh Complex, mostly pillow and massive basalt underneath folded and faulted radiolarian chert that formed during the Middle Triassic to Early Cretaceous period. The McHugh Complex represents some of the oldest rocks in the Southern Margin composite terrane, also known as the Chugach terrane, one of the world’s largest accretionary complexes and found along most of the Gulf of Alaska coast.

In about 1850, towards the close of the Russian occupation of Alaska, Captain  Illarion Archimandritof made hydrographic surveys of the Kenai Peninsula for the Russian-American Company. Copies of his manuscript maps were used by other Russian navigators including Mikhail D. Tebenkov. Tebenkof was a Russian hydrographer and vice-admiral of the Imperial Russian Navy, who also served as director of the Russian-American Company and was the governor of Russian America from 1845 to 1850. He was perhaps the most outstanding Russian surveyor of the time, dedicating much time and patient work to the improvement of charts of the Alaskan coast. Based on the notes and manuscript maps of Archimandritof, Tebenkof was the first to publish maps showing Tutka Bay and the icefield he named the Southern Glacier. In 1867, following the Alaska Purchase, George Davidson of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey described Tutka Bay as having 2 miles (3.2 km) of open water, and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) of moraine leading to the terminus of the Southern Glacier which was about 0.75 miles (1.2 km) wide. At that time, the Southern Glacier was draped over the southern Kenai Mountains, flowing northwesterly to the head of Tutka Bay, southeasterly to Taylor Bay, and southwesterly to the western arm of Port Dick on the Gulf of Alaska coast.

Today, Tutka River is within Kachemak Bay State Park and Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park, with 400,000 acres (161,874 ha). The park includes much of the shore of Kachemak Bay, part of the Kenai Mountains, Nuka Island, waters in Kachemak Bay and the Gulf of Alaska, lands on the west side of Nuka Passage, and lands on the north side of Kachemak Bay at the Cottonwood and Eastland Creek areas. The park was the first legislatively designated state park in the Alaska State Parks system. There is no road access to the park from the highway system and most visitors fly or travel by water taxi or private boats from Homer. A new adventure trail, named the Tutka Backdoor Trail, has been developed that leads from the head of Tutka Bay for 21 miles (34 km) to Taylor Bay on the Gulf of Alaska coast. Read more here and here. Explore more of Tutka River and Southern Glacier here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (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.

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