Alaska is Smaller than Larger-than-you-think

You may have seen several visualizations or statistics on how massively large the state of Alaska is: a juxtaposition of Alaska onto the contiguous states, or a reading on how many degrees of longitude Alaska spans. These often drive home the point that Alaska is much larger than one might be convinced it actually is, from maps of the United States where Alaska is in a small inset, and the such.

Indeed, Alaska’s contribution to American area is substantial, without which the United States would actually be smaller than Brazil. It is by quite a margin the largest state. It is also easy, however, to arrive, particularly from such visuals, to the conclusion that Alaska is larger than it really is.

There are two factors at play here:

  1. Alaska is very far north, and thus is portrayed as disproportionately large in popular projections like Mercator.
  2. Much of Alaska’s impression of massiveness comes from significantly long “appendages”: the mightily extended Aleutian Islands and the also impressive Alaskan Panhandle. There is a lot of not-Alaska within Alaska’s bounding box.

When looking at the main mass of Alaska, here’s what we find from some comparisons with Texas:

  • The distance from Barrow to Anchorage is 1164 km. The distance from Amarillo to Brownsville is 1117 km.
  • The distance from Nome to Tok is 1099 km. The distance from El Paso to Houston is 1086 km.
  • One can’t actually fit Texas inside Alaska, no matter how one rotates it.

Alaska really does just have seriously extended protrusions: Juneau is 924 km from Anchorage, nearly four-fifths the height of the main part of Alaska. Ketchikan is 1246 km from Anchorage: around this height, and closer to Seattle than to Anchorage.

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