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Diomede Islands

Coordinates: 65°47′N 169°01′W / 65.783°N 169.017°W / 65.783; -169.017
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Diomede Islands
Diomede Islands: Little Diomede (left, U.S.) and Big Diomede,(right, Russia) viewed from the north, looking south
Satellite photo of the Bering Strait, with the Diomede Islands at center
LocationBering Strait
Coordinates65°47′N 169°01′W / 65.783°N 169.017°W / 65.783; -169.017
Total islands2
Area35 km2 (14 sq mi)
Population (January 2023[1])
Additional information
Time zones

The Diomede Islands (/ˌd.əˈmd/; Russian: острова́ Диоми́да, romanizedostrova Diomida), also known in Russia as Gvozdev Islands (Russian: острова́ Гво́здева, romanizedostrova Gvozdeva), consist of two rocky, mesa-like islands:

  • The Russian island of Big Diomede (part of Chukotka), also known as Imaqłiq, Inaliq, Nunarbuk or Ratmanov Island
  • The U.S. island of Little Diomede (part of Alaska) or Iŋaliq, also known as Krusenstern Island[a]

The Diomede Islands are located in the middle of the Bering Strait between mainland Alaska and Siberia. If marginal seas are considered, then they are the northernmost islands within the entire Pacific Ocean. To the north is the Chukchi Sea and to the south is the Bering Sea. Fairway Rock, 9.3 km (5.8 mi) to the southeast, is also Alaskan, but generally not seen as part of the Diomede Islands. Because they are separated by the International Date Line, Big Diomede is almost a day ahead of Little Diomede, but not completely; due to locally defined time zones, Big Diomede is only 21 hours ahead of Little Diomede (20 in summer).[2] Because of this, the islands are sometimes called Tomorrow Island (Big Diomede) and Yesterday Island (Little Diomede).


The islands are named for the Greek Saint Diomedes; Danish navigator Vitus Bering sighted the Diomede Islands on 16 August (O.S., 27 August N.S.) 1728, the day on which the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the saint.[3]


The islands are separated by an international border, which also defines the International Date Line in that area, about 2 km (1.2 mi) from each island, at 168°58'37"W. At their closest points, the two islands are about 3.8 km (2.4 mi) apart.[4] The small habitation on Little Diomede Island is centered on the west side of the island at the village of Diomede.

Big Diomede Island is the easternmost point of Russia.

The Diomede Islands are often mentioned as likely intermediate stops for the hypothetical bridge or tunnel (Bering Strait crossing) spanning the Bering Strait.[5]

During winter, an ice bridge usually spans the distance between these two islands. At these times, it is theoretically possible (although not legal, since travel between the two islands is forbidden[6]) to walk between the United States and Russia.


A village of 40–50 mostly small buildings built on a steep, rocky coastline; some structures higher on the hill are built on stilts.
Little Diomede in August 2008

The first European to reach the Bering Strait was the Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev in 1648. He reported two islands whose natives had bone lip ornaments, but it is not certain that these were the Diomedes. Danish navigator Vitus Bering re-discovered the Diomede Islands while leading a Russian expedition on 16 August (O.S., 26 August N.S.) 1728, the day when the Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the memory of the martyr St. Diomede (hence, the name of the islands). In 1732, a Russian geodesist, Mikhail Gvozdev, determined longitude and latitude for the two islands.[7]

The text of the 1867 treaty between the United States and Russia which finalized the Alaska Purchase uses the islands to designate the boundary between the two nations: the border separates "equidistantly Krusenstern Island, or Ignaluk, from Ratmanov Island, or Nunarbuk, and heads northward infinitely until it disappears completely in the Arctic Ocean."

During the Cold War, that gap constituted the border between the United States and the Soviet Union, and became known as the "Ice Curtain". In 1987, however, Lynne Cox swam from one island to the other, and was congratulated by both Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan for her feat.[8]

In summer 1995, British television actor and documentary presenter Michael Palin started his counterclockwise circumnavigation of the Pacific Rim, encompassing 18 countries, on Little Diomede Island, as part of the BBC series Full Circle. He intended to set foot on it again at the end of his eight-month trek, but was unable to do so because of rough seas.

Big Diomede Island was traditionally the easternmost landmass before the International Date Line, and the first landmass to ring in a new year, if using local solar time. When using official time, however, a large area in eastern Russia and New Zealand also share the same time zone. New Zealand also has daylight saving time in effect during late December, but Russia does not (see time in New Zealand and time in Russia). This became moot in 1995, however, when the International Date Line was moved to the east of Kiribati and that country's easternmost time zone (GMT+14) is now the world's earliest.

After they established a military base there in 1948, the Soviet government relocated the indigenous population of Big Diomede Island to mainland Russia.[9] The island is now inhabited only by military units.[10] Little Diomede had an Inupiat population of 170,[11] which had declined to 115 at the 2010 census, entirely in the village site on the west side of the island, though the island as a whole comprises the city of Diomede. This village has a school, a post office and a store. Some residents are famous for their ivory carving. When weather permits, commercial air contact is maintained with the island as part of the US Essential Air Service.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Krusenstern Island may also refer to other places; see Krusenstern Island (disambiguation)


  1. ^ "The Diomede Islands – Tomorrow & Yesterday Isle". arcticportal.org. 8 June 2023. Retrieved 5 December 2023.
  2. ^ "Two of the world's largest countries, Russia and the United States, at their closest points are separated by 2.4 miles, but are 21 hours apart! Find out how ... | ePaper | DAWN.COM". epaper.dawn.com. 18 November 2017. Retrieved 2018-06-21.
  3. ^ "Russia.com". Archived from the original on September 20, 2008.
  4. ^ "Yesterday and Tomorrow Islands". earthobservatory.nasa.gov. 2018-01-27. Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  5. ^ "Could a Russia–US rail tunnel be built?". BBC News. 21 October 2011.
  6. ^ "The Diomede Islands". www.usgs.gov. 20 January 2023. Retrieved 5 December 2023.
  7. ^ "Map of the New Discoveries in the Eastern Ocean". World Digital Library. 1781. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  8. ^ Smith, Martin. January 31, 1988. "The transcendent power of the solo athlete." Orange County Register, p. J1.
  9. ^ "Profile: After 70 Years, A Diomede Family Reunion". KNOM Radio Mission. 2017-08-09. Retrieved 2022-06-06.
  10. ^ Tuchman, Gary (30 September 2008). "You CAN see Russia from here!". Anderson Cooper 360°. CNN. Archived from the original on 3 October 2011. Retrieved 12 June 2011.
  11. ^ "Intent To Prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Navigation Improvements and Airport, Little Diomede Island, AK". U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 29 October 2009. Archived from the original on 21 August 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2011.

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