Alaska Science Forum
August 1, 2012
The most remote spot in Alaska
by Ned Rozell
“Out of the million square miles of basin, range, peaks and prairies that compose the interior West, the farthest it’s possible to be from a road is a trifling 28 miles.”
Richard Forman, a Harvard professor of landscape ecology, once visited a mangrove swamp in the Florida Everglades that he described as the most remote place in the eastern U.S. The swamp was 17 miles from any road.
What’s the most remote spot in Alaska? Dorte Dissing helped me tackle that question. Dissing is a geographer with Alaska Biological Research, Inc. She’s proficient with the use of the electronic mapping system known as GIS, Geographic Information Systems. Scientists use GIS to make detailed maps of everything from migration routes of dark-eyed juncos over Alaska to maps of permafrost, slope aspect, forest type and elevation for road engineers. The possibilities are endless, and they include searching for the most remote place in Alaska.
When my friend first mentioned that the farthest spot from a road in the Lower 48 was less than 30 miles, I didn’t believe her until I looked at a detailed map of the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 3,919125 miles of road crisscrossed the continental U.S. as of the year 2000. In 2000, Alaska had 12,823 miles of public roads, according to the same source. That’s less than Vermont, which is 62 times smaller.
Dissing uses a GIS program with a blank map of Alaska to which she can add features, such as rivers, towns, roads, and trails. To begin the search for the Alaska’s middle-of-nowhere, she created a buffer zone of increasing mileage around Alaska roads, trails, and villages. The most remote spots appeared as tiny wedges in northwest and northeast Alaska. Other lonely spots were a few Aleutian islands and St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea.
When she lengthened the buffer zones to 85 miles from villages and trails listed on h