North Carolina Physical Geography

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Information about North Carolina Physical Geography

Published on August 24, 2007

Author: EdgrT


North Carolina Physical Geography:  North Carolina Physical Geography Tom Shields NCST 2000 (Fall 2007) The Three Main Regions:  The Three Main Regions Major Geographic Regions of North Carolina:  Major Geographic Regions of North Carolina Coastal Plain (~45%) Two main subregions: Outer Coastal Plain or Tidewater Inner Coastal Plain (includes Sandhills) Piedmont (~39%) Mountains (~16%) 45% 39% 16% A Topographic Overview:  A Topographic Overview A topographic map can help illustrate how much of North Carolina is taken up by each of the regions—the large, flatter area of the Coastal Plains to the east, the mid-sized area of hills of the Piedmont in the center of the state, and the smaller area of Mountains to the west. The Coastal Plain:  The Coastal Plain The Inner and Outer Coastal Plains:  The Inner and Outer Coastal Plains The division between the Inner and the Outer Coastal Plain is generally where streams and other waterways are brackish and affected by the tides. Brackish: a mix of where salt and fresh water. This line can be drawn approximately along the western edge of the sounds in the north (the drowned coast) and the larger ends of ocean-outlet rivers in the south (the Cape Fear Uplift). This line is approximately the route of US 17 from the Virginia to the South Carolina border Coastal Plains Topography:  Coastal Plains Topography Features of the Coastal Plain From sea level to 500 feet above sea level at the Sand Hills. Types of land formations: Coastal Plain Terraces Barrier Islands Pocosins Carolina Bays Sand Hills Oceanic Invasion of the South:  Oceanic Invasion of the South The overall geography of the coastal plains was formed by a series of rises and falls in the levels of the ocean. Each rise and fall created one of the coastal plain terraces. Barrier Islands:  Barrier Islands Island Beach State Park, NJ, another barrier island environment. Barrier Islands:  Barrier Islands While the prior slide shows the basic form of a barrier island, this figure shows what can happen to a barrier island when people try to keep the sand on such an island from shifting. Such shifting is a natural occurrence on barrier islands. One result of such stabilizing attempts is that when water overwashes the island, as can happen form either the ocean or sound side during storms, the breaches are much more dramatic and effect human activity on the island much more. To see how the barrier islands of the northern Outer Banks have shifted over the past 150 years or so, see 'Dare County Shoreline History' andlt; shoreline.htmandgt;. Breaching a Barrier Island:  Breaching a Barrier Island On September 18, 2003, Hurricane Isabel came across eastern North Carolina and, in the process, cut a breach in Hatteras Island. Such a breach is a natural occurrence but, because of human needs, was almost immediately filled back in. Pocosins:  Pocosins The word pocosin comes from the Algonquian, meaning 'swamp on a hill.' A pocosin is a boggy area with wet, spongy, acidic soils made up mainly of peat. Pocosins can be found from coastal Maryland to South Carolina, though they are most concentrated in eastern North Carolina. The term 'pocosin' is sometimes used as a generic term for swamp, but is best applied to those swamps and bogs found on higher ground where such wetlands would not be expected to be found. Many pocosins were mined of their peat then drained and are now used for agriculture and tree farming. Roquist Pocosin located near the town of Lewiston-Woodville in Bertie County Roquist Pocosin Roanoke River The Formation of a Pocosin:  The Formation of a Pocosin The following are the steps in the process over time of how an area in the coastal plain would become a pocosin. A Typical Pocosin Profile:  A Typical Pocosin Profile The soils in the low pocosin mainly would be peat, that is, partially decayed vegetable matter. The Variety of Pocosin Vegetation:  The Variety of Pocosin Vegetation Four views from Roquist Pocosin: typical low pocosin growth; mixed pine and hardwood at the pocosin’s edge; farming reclaimed pocosin land; utility lines cut through the pocosin‘s mixed pine and hardwood Carolina Bays:  Carolina Bays Carolina Bays are of unknown origin, though many theories have been put forward, including ancient meteor showers. (Many of these have been gathered at andlt;;. One theory that has a good deal of currency in academic circles but that doesn’t show up on this site is that the Bays were formed by erosion through near constant high winds coming from the same predominant direction some 70,000 to 100,000 years ago. The Bays are neat circles or ellipses and have raised sand ridges. Many Bays have turned into pocosins, lakes, or ponds. Bays can be found in many places, but are concentrated in coastal North and South Carolina. Local Carolina Bays:  Local Carolina Bays There are many Carolina Bays in Pitt and surrounding counties. The ones indicated below are just northwest of Greenville. Sometimes bays are located within larger pocosins. The Piedmont:  The Piedmont The Fall Line:  The Fall Line The division between the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont is marked by the Fall Line. The Fall Line is that place where rivers begin to move rapidly, that is, where falls or rapids are able to begin to form. Rivers are navigable east of the Fall Line. Rivers can be used as a power source west of the Fall Line. In North Carolina, this is approximately the same route that I-95 travels. The Fall line is one of the most important topographic features in North Carolina. We will be referring to it again and again throughout the semester. The fall line at the Cape Fear River. The Piedmont:  The Piedmont Features of the Piedmont: The name Piedmont comes from the French pie, or foot, and mont, or mount or hill. Thus, it is the foothills region. 300 to 1500 feet above sea level Swift moving, generally non-navigable rivers and streams A wide rolling plateau Historically, the most easily navigable land topography of North Carolina. Occasional Monadnocks These are discussed in the presentation on North Carolina geology. Piedmont River Basins:  Piedmont River Basins The Piedmont is drained by a number of rivers, including the Dan, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear, Yadkin, and Catawba Piedmont—and Coastal Plain—rivers have a general northwest to southeast flow. The Piedmont has no large natural lakes, only man made-reservoirs. (Only the Coastal Plain has large natural lakes.) The Mountains:  The Mountains The Mountains:  The Mountains Features of the Mountains: Part of the Appalachian Mountains Divided from the Piedmont by the Brevard Fault. Faults are fractures in rocks where movement can occur. See The US Geological Survey’s Earthquake Center andlt;http://earthquake.; for where earthquakes have ocurred in the past week. North carolina occasionally appears. Includes the Eastern Continental Divide. Mount Mitchell—6,684 feet above sea level Geological and Seismic Information for North Carolina. (North Carolina Geological Survey) Brevard Fault The Eastern Continental Divide:  The Eastern Continental Divide A Continental Divide is the point marking where rivers flow in different directions, generally the high point along the mountains. The Eastern Continental Divide marks where rivers flow either to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Mountain rivers to the west of the Continental Divide generally flow southeast to northwest This is in contrast to the general northwest to southeast flow of river basins in the Piedmont and Coastal Plains. The exception in the Mountains is the New River, which flows southwest to northeast. Keep in mind that the Eastern Continental Divide in North Carolina will be west of the Brevard Fault line and that part of the North Carolina Mountains will be east of the Eastern Continental Divide. The Eastern Continental Divide Mountains :  Mountains The main mountain chains run from southwest to northeast. Smaller chains run between the main chains, creating Coves (recesses or small valleys in the side of a mountain), Basins (large, bowl-shaped depressions in the surface of the land), and Valleys (elongated lowlands between ranges of mountains, hills, or other uplands, often having rivers or streams running along the bottom). Intermontane Basins, such as the Ashville Basin, are where most people settled in the mountains.

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