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Marine Places

Gulf of Alaska

A counterclockwise subpolar gyre extends across the north Pacific and into the Gulf of Alaska, fed by the warm waters of the northern Kuroshio Extension, the extension of the Kuroshio Current. The surface waters are cooled and become less saline due to precipitation as they cross the ocean. Many of the storms that lash the west coast of Canada originate in the Gulf of Alaska. The circulation is completed as the Alaska Current and the Aleutian Current return west along the Alaskan coast and south of the Aleutian Islands. The gulf’s waters are very productive, providing feeding grounds for many species of fish. Pacific salmon spend up to five years at sea, much of it in the gulf and adjacent seas, before returning to spawn in the Asian and North American rivers where they were born. The floor of the Gulf of Alaska is peppered with seamounts. There are two main chains: the Patton and Gilbert seamounts, and the Kodiak Seamounts, both running away from the Alaska Peninsula. Their origin is the Cobb Hotspot, situated beneath the spreading center of the Juan de Fuca Plate west of Vancouver Island. The seamounts were created above the hotspot over the last 30 million years, then carried northwest by seafloor spreading. Since 1977, oil has been shipped through ports on the south coast of Alaska. In 1989, Prince William Sound was the site of one of the worst maritime environmental disasters, when the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground, releasing about 30 million gallons (114 million liters) of crude oil.

Alaskan fjordzoom image
  • Area 600,000 sq. miles (1.5 million sq. km)
  • Maximum Depth 16,400 ft (5,000 m)
  • Inflows Susitna, Copper rivers; icebergs from numerous glaciers
The Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaskazoom image