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14 Physiographic Provinces
Bradley Deline 14.1 Introduction
If you took a road trip across the continental United States of America you
would see significant changes in the landscape in terms of the topography, rocks,
soils, geological structures, and plant life that are evident even through the car
window on the highway. Regions vary in their geologic history, from the rocky
coastline of New England, to the flat plains of the Midwest, to the sharp peaks of
the Rocky Mountains, to the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest, these (and the
many other) observable differences across the United States can be broken into
physiographic provinces. Physiographic provinces are identifiable by their distinctive landforms, geologic features, and suites of rocks.
You can observe such diverse geologic characteristics across the state of Georgia from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the North, to the iconic red
clay of Middle Georgia, to the flat Coastal Plain. As we discuss the physiographic
provinces of Georgia, we will also explore regional geologic resources that benefit
the state as well as the major river systems that provide water for our state. Lastly,
the tools and knowledge you have gained in this lab manual will aid your reconstruction of the various physiographic province geologies. 14.1.1 Learning Outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
? Distinguish the different physiographic provinces of the United States
based on their topography, geology, and other features
? Identify the physiographic features of the different geological provinces
? Describe the major natural resources within Georgia including
minerals, building rock, and water Page | 334 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces 14.1.2 Key Terms
? Adirondack Mountains
Province ? Fall Line ? Appalachian Plateau
Province ? Interior Lowlands Province ? Great Plains Province
? New England Province ? Basin and Range Province ? Physiographic Province ? Blue Ridge Province ? Piedmont Province ? Cascade Range ? Rocky Mountains ? Coastal Plain ? Sierra Nevada Range ? Colorado Plateau ? Valley and Ridge Province ? Columbia Plateau 14.2 Physiographic Provinces of the United
States Of America
The physiographic provinces of the United States of America can be broken
into three different broad areas: Western, Central, and Eastern regions (Figure
14.1). Adjacent provinces will share features or will at least be affected by the geologic events that define the nearby region. The Western Provinces are shaped by
relatively young events (Post-Paleozoic), which are mostly the result of an active
plate tectonic margin (the edge of the continent is also the edge of a tectonic plate). Figure 14.1 | Physiographic provinces of the continental United States of America.
Author: User ?Kbh3rd?
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: CC BY 3.0 Page | 335 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces The Eastern Provinces are a mix between young and old geologic events. Most of
the individual provinces within this region result from the deformation of ancient
mountain building as well as the recent passive sedimentary buildup observable
today. Since the Central Provinces of the country has been largely shielded from
tectonic activity, this area is flatter and less deformed than the United States?
coasts. Before the individual provinces are discussed in depth, it will be helpful to
review the geologic time scale that was presented in Chapter 1. 14.2.1 Western U.S.
The geologic provinces in the Western United States occupy roughly a third of
the country and stretch from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. We can
group this tectonically active area into four types of provinces: the Rocky Mountains, the Coastal Pacific Mountain System, Interior Plateaus, and the extensional
Basin and Range.
The Rocky Mountains are an immense range that stretches from New Mexico
to Northern Canada. The Rocky Mountains first started to form during the Late Paleozoic, but their main growth occurred during the Laramide Orogeny during the
Late Mesozoic and Early Cenozoic. An orogeny is a large-scale deformational event
that is the result of the interaction between tectonic plates, in short it is mountain
building. The formation of this range differs from the Continent-Continent convergent boundaries, like the Himalayas you studied in Chapter 4. The Rocky Mountains
are the result of low-angle subduction, which caused deformation in the overlying
plate. This striking mountain range is no longer active nor growing and has since
been glaciated and eroded, which has rounded its highest peaks.
The Pacific Coast Mountains stretch
from Mexico to the Arctic Circle in Alaska.
Not only do the Pacific Coast Mountains
differ significantly from the Rocky Mountains, but the mountain ranges within the
Coastal Pacific Mountain System as also differ amongst themselves. The Sierra Nevada
Range runs 400 miles across the middle of
California and contains iconic features such
Yosemite?s Half Dome, which is a mecca for Figure 14.2 | Half Dome at Yosemite National
Park, which is part of the Sierra Nevada Range.
mountain climbers (Figure 14.2). As with the Author: Arian Zwegers
Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada Range Source: Wikimedia Commons
is the byproduct of convergence and subduc- License: CC BY 2.0
tion. During the same time as the growth of the Rocky Mountains (Late Mesozoic), the subduction led to the formation of volcanoes and the intrusion of massive
granite batholiths. The volcanoes have long since eroded away exposing the batholiths at the surface. The Sierra Nevada topography is relatively recent (within
the last 5 million years), as these rocks have been deformed by extensional stress,
creating large fault blocks that build the steep face of the range. The Cascade Range
Page | 336 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces is the northern portion of the Pacific Coast Mountain Range that spans an area
from Northern California to Canada. The Cascade Range is the result of modern
subduction of the Juan de Fuca and Gorda Plates under the North American Plate.
Whereas the Sierra Nevada range is the eroded exposed core of a Mesozoic chain
of volcanoes, the Cascade Range is modern and active. This chain encompasses
thousands of volcanoes including well-known landmarks such as Mount Rainier
and Mount Saint Helens.
Between the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast Mountain Range is a large
broad area containing a great diversity of geologic features. The Northernmost portion between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains is the Columbia Plateau.
The Columbia Plateau is a large igneous province dominated by Cenozoic volcanic
rocks that are a product of the Yellowstone Hotspot. This hotspot produced several
massive, though infrequent, eruptions; the
largest eruption covering over 50,000 square
miles. The Yellowstone Hotspot is still active
and supplies the heat that feeds the classic
geysers and hot springs throughout Yellowstone National Park (Figure 14.3). Southeast
of this province is the Colorado Plateau,
which is a broad flat expanse that considering its neighboring provinces, is remarkably
Figure 14.3 | Hot Spring in Yellowstone National un-deformed. The Colorado Plateau is mostPark within the Columbia Plateau Province.
ly composed of horizontal Paleozoic and MeAuthor: User ?daveynin?
sozoic sedimentary rocks that contain abunLicense: CC BY 2.0
dant fossils, including the massive bone beds
of Dinosaur National Monument. During the Laramide Orogeny this area was dramatically uplifted, allowing rivers to erode downward thus producing immense
canyons, such as Grand Canyon National Park. The southeastern portion of the
expanse between the Mountain Ranges is called the Basin and Range Province.
This area can easily be recognized by the abundant Horsts and Grabens. Which you
may remember are series of elevated plateaus and low basins produced from the
extensional deformation of abundant paired and mirrored normal faults. There are
multiple hypotheses for the source of the extension, which range from heating from
the mantle to movement along the San Andres Fault. 14.2.2 Eastern U.S.
The physiographic provinces that occupy the eastern third of the country range
from New England to Texas, wrapping around the Gulf of Mexico. These provinces can easily be split into three regions, such as the provinces associated with the
building of the Appalachian Mountains, provinces built by much older orogenies
in the Northeast, and provinces created from more recent passive build-up of sediments along the coast. Page | 337 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces The Appalachian Mountains are the
product of multiple collisions with small
island chains during the Paleozoic, culminating with a collision with the supercontinent of Gondwana during the formation of
Pangaea. These ancient mountains have
been significantly eroded down to rolling
hills that span most of the Southeastern
United States as seen in Great Smoky
Mountains National Park (Figure 14.4). Figure 14.4 | Appalachian Mountains within
The Appalachian Mountains can be further Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which
contains multiple physiographic provinces.
divided into four distinctive physiographic Author: Ernest Duffo
provinces based on their topography and Source: Flickr
geology. The center of the Appalachian License: CC BY 2.0
Mountains is called the Valley and Ridge Province, which is composed of highly
folded and faulted sedimentary rock. Fossils within these rocks indicate that they
are Paleozoic in age with thick and resistant Pennsylvanian-age sandstones forming its ridges while weaker Devonian and Cambrian shales forming its valleys. To
the east of the Valley and Ridge is the Blue Ridge Province, which was uplifted
along with the Valley and Ridge but is composed of much older igneous and metamorphic rock. Absolute dating of these rocks indicates that the Blue Ridge was
formed during the Proterozoic and later deformed during the Middle Paleozoic.
The topography between these two provinces differs with the more uniform rocks
in the Blue Ridge producing random peaks, valleys, and ridges as opposed to the
resistant and non-resistant rocks of the Valley and Ridge, which produce more
uniformly parallel ridges.
Southeast of the Blue Ridge is the Piedmont Province, which is typified by much
lower, rolling hills along with small isolated
mountains such as Stone Mountain in Georgia
(Figure 14.5). The Piedmont is composed of
igneous and metamorphic rock from the cores
of long eroded mountain chains ranging from
the Proterozoic to the end of the Paleozoic period. On the adjacent west side of the Valley
and Ridge province is the Appalachian Plateau,
Figure 14.5 | Stone Mountain within the Piedmont which is an uplifted and largely un-deformed
region analogous to the Colorado Plateau. The
Author: User ?kschlot1?
rocks in this province are similar in age and
License: CC BY 2.0
lithology to those in the Valley and Ridge, but
the preservation of fossils is enhanced because of the absence of extensive folding
and faulting. In addition, the Appalachian Plateau contains abundant geological
resources, including coal in West Virginia and iron in Alabama.
Page | 338 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces The physiographic provinces in the northeastern United States are very similar to the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Provinces. The New England Province is
similar to the Piedmont in that it is composed of Late Proterozoic and Paleozoic intrusive igneous and metamorphic rocks. The major difference between these
two provinces is in their history following exposure, with the New England Province showing extensive weathering and erosion from glaciers that is absent from
its southeastern counterpart. The Adirondack Mountain Province located in
upstate New York is similar to the Blue Ridge in that they are both composed of
igneous and metamorphic rock. However, the Adirondacks are fairly unique considering that they are a circular rather than linear range of mountains. The rocks
themselves are billion year old remnants of the building of a Proterozoic supercontinent called Rodinia. The actual mountains in the range are quite young and
represent Late Cenozoic uplift, which exposed these ancient rocks.
The last eastern physiographic province is the Coastal Plain that spans a vast
area along the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico from New England to Texas. This
province is composed of the sediment that has accumulated since the rifting of
Pangaea when the eastern edge of the continent became tectonically inactive. The
sediment was derived from the continent and was deposited in shallow marine
sedimentary environments with abundant, mature sediment and marine fossils. 14.2.3 Central U.S.
The central third of the country is
mostly flat, un-deformed, and dominated by sequences of sedimentary rocks.
We separate this broad expanse into two
physiographic provinces based largely
on the source of the sediment. The Interior Lowlands Province covers the
Midwestern states and consists largely
of un-deformed Paleozoic marine rocks
(limestones and shales) that have been Figure 14.6 | Mammoth Cave National Park in
since carved and shaped by the activity of Central Kentucky.
Author: Gary Tindale
glaciers and rivers. This description may Source: Flickr
not seem as geologically exciting as those License: CC BY 2.0
to the east or west, but spectacular cave developments can occur in these marine
limestones, such as those from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky (Figure 14.6). To the
west of the Interior Lowlands Province is the Great Plains Province, which is
composed of sediments that eroded from the Rocky Mountains and are, therefore,
substantially younger (Mesozoic and Cenozoic) with a higher proportion of clastic
material. As with Interior Lowlands, the Great Plains have since been shaped by
glaciers and rivers. Page | 339 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces 14.3 Lab Exercise
We will explore the various physiographic provinces of the United States of
America by looking closely at the National Parks that showcase iconic geologic
and topological features within each region. For each park, examine the area using
Google Earth. To get a better view of the features, making sure to zoom in and out
and also click on multiple photographs posted (make sure that photos are checked
in the layers box). More information about these and other parks can be found at
This lab is also cumulative in that you may need to review the material presented in previous chapters to answer the following questions. Part A ? National Parks
Crater Lake National Park
Crater Lake National Park (Figure
14.7) is located in southern Oregon and
was established as a National Park in
1902. The main attraction at this park is
Crater Lake, which at almost 2,000 feet is
one of the deepest lakes on Earth. Search
for 42 56 33.15N 122 06 14.89W and zoom
out to an eye altitude of 15 miles. Figure 14.7 | Crater Lake National Park,
Author: Ray Bouknight 1. What type of volcano is Crater Lake? Source: Flickr
License: CC BY 2.0 a. Composite Volcano
b. Shield Volcano
d. Cinder Cone
2. What is the origin of this volcano?
a. Subduction of an oceanic plate at a Convergent Boundary
b. Subduction of a continental plate at a Convergent Boundary
c. Development of a Hotspot
d. Continental Rifting Page | 340 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces 3. Crater Lake National Park is located in which of the following physiographic
a. Rocky Mountains b. Sierra Nevada c. Cascades d. Columbia Plateau e. Colorado Plateau f. Basin and Range Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Figure 14.8) is located in North Dakota and was
established as a National Park 1978. This
park was named after Theodore Roosevelt in
honor of his conservation policies that led to
the establishment of the National Park System. Following the death of his wife, Roosevelt spent several years in the area that
would ultimately become the park, during
which time he wrote extensively about the
lonely beauty of the surrounding landscape.
Search for 46 58 52.55N 103 32 13.91W and
zoom out to an eye altitude of 30,000 feet. Figure 14.8 | Theodore Roosevelt National Park,
Author: User ?stereogab?
License: CC BY-SA 2.0 4. What is the prominent drainage pattern in this park?
a. Radial b. Trellis c. Rectangular d. Dendritic 5. One of the main attractions at this park is a forest of large petrified trees. These
trees were preserved by being replaced with silica from ash layers within the
Triassic (Mesozoic) sandstones. Based on the geologic history and features of the
area, which of the following statements about these sedimentary rocks is TRUE?
a. The clastic sand that forms these rocks was weathered and eroded from the Appalachian Mountains.
b. The ash was produced from volcanoes associated with the Yellowstone Hotspot.
c. The clastic sand that forms these rocks was weathered and eroded from the Rocky
d. The clastic sand that forms these rocks was weathered and eroded from the Sierra
Page | 341 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces 6. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in which of the following
a. Rocky Mountains b. Colorado Plateau c. Interior Lowlands d. Great Plains e. Basin and Range f. Columbia Plateau Acadia National Park Acadia National Park (Figure 14.9) is located in Southern Maine and was preserved
as a National Park in 1916. This was the first
park established east of the Mississippi River and helped Maine gain the nickname ?Vacationland?. Search for 44 21 09.94N 68 13
23.22W and zoom out to an eye altitude of
7. Based on the history of the region
containing Acadia National Park and the
color of the rocks, what type of igneous
rock occur in this area?
a. Gabbro b. Granite d. Andesite Figure 14.9 | Acadia National Park in Southern
Author: Ken Lund
License: CC BY-SA 2.0 c. Rhyolite e. Diorite 8. What type of igneous body does this structure represent?
a. Stock b. Dike c. Sill 9. Acadia National Park is located in which of the following physiographic
a. Interior Lowlands b. Adirondacks c. Great Plains d. Appalachian Plateau e. New England f. Piedmont Page | 342 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces Congaree National Park
Congaree National Park (Figure 14.10)
is located in South Carolina and was recently established as a National Park in
2003. Unlike most National Parks, this
area was preserved for reasons other than
geology. Congaree contains the oldest
tract of old growth hardwood forest left
in the United States. This lush ecosystem
contains a diverse assemblage of animals,
fungi, and plants. Search for 33 47 57.63N
80 47 49.79W and zoom out to an eye altitude of 35,000 feet. Figure 14.10 | Congaree National Park in South
Author: Miguel Vieira
License: CC BY 2.0 10. What is the maturity of the river in this area?
a. Youthful b. Mature c. Old Age 11. Zoom out to an eye altitude of 500 miles to see the source of the sediment that
is accumulating in this area. This sediment is __________ and if lithified
would be called _________.
a. Immature, Conglomerate b. Intermediate, Sandstone c. Mature, Shale 12. Congaree National Park is located in which of the following physiographic
a. Interior Lowlands b. Blue Ridge d. Coastal Plain c. Piedmont e. New England Shenandoah National Park
Shenandoah National Park (Figure 14.11)
is located in Virginia and was established as
a National Park in 1935. This park, which is
located close to Washington, D.C., is a favorite of hikers containing 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Northern
Georgia to Maine. Search for 38 17 53.72N 78
40 26.42W and zoom out to an eye altitude of
25,000 feet. Figure 14.11 | Shenandoah National Park in
Author: Beau Considine
License: CC BY-SA 2.0 Page | 343 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces 13. Look over the region and examine the mountains, note their shape, ground
cover, and height. Then Search for 43 48 25.03N 110 50 26.19W to examine
Grand Tetons National Park. How do the Shenandoah Mountains compare to
the Rocky Mountains?
a. The Shenandoah Mountains are shorter.
b. The Shenandoah Mountains are more rounded.
c. The Shenandoah Mountains have more vegetation.
d. All of the above.
14. Based on these observations, we can conclude that the mountains in
Shenandoah National Park have undergone _________erosion and are
_____________ the Rocky Mountains.
a. more, older than b. less, younger than c. the same amount of, the same age as 15. Shanandoah National Park is located in which of the following physiographic
a. Blue Ridge b. Piedmont c. Appalachian Plateau d. Valley and Ridge e. Adirondack Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Black Canyon of the Gunnison National
Park (Figure 14.12) is located in Western Colorado and was established as a National Park
in 1999. This park is often overshadowed by
the Grand Canyon, but is striking in its own
right. The Gunnison River has a high gradient, which has produced an incredibly steep
canyon. In fact, it is called Black Canyon not
because of the color of the rocks, but because
of the dark shadows produced by the steep
walls of the canyon. Search for 38 34 43.18N
107 43 43.74W and zoom out to an eye altitude of 30,000 feet. Page | 344 Figure 14.12 | Black Canyon of the Gunnison
National Park in Colorado.
Author: User ?daveynin?
License: CC BY 2.0 Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces 16. What type of weathering is primarily responsible for the formation of this
a. Frost wedging b. Chemical weathering c. Mechanical weathering from air d. Mechanical weathering from water 17. We can measure the rate of erosion in this canyon at about 0.01 inches/year.
Based on this rate, when did the canyon start to erode? (Hint: Measure the
difference in elevation from the bottom of the canyon at the latitude and
longitude given above and the top, measured at the road on the edge of the
canyon due south of the previous point. Then divide by the rate of erosion.
Make sure to use the correct units.)
a. 750,000 years b. 1,200,000 years c. 2,700,000 years d. 3,500,000 years 18. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is located in which of the following
a. Blue Ridge b. Colorado Plateau c. Appalachian Plateau d. Rocky Mountains e. Basin and Range f. Columbia Plateau 14.4 Geology of Georgia
Georgia is a wonderful natural laboratory for
the study of geology. The rocks within this state
span over a billion years of history and through
this lens we can study all of the topics presented within this lab manual. Within the state we
have mountains, coastlines, folds, faults, earthquakes, fossils, a diversity of rocks, and evidence
for ancient volcanic eruptions. As would be expected with this geologic diversity, Georgia contains multiple physiographic provinces (Figure
14.13) that have been discussed above.
The northwestern portion of the state is
within the Valley and Ridge Province and shows
the characteristic sandstone ridges with folded and deformed shale within valleys. As you
might expect, the shale is relatively soft (which
is why they show more deformation) and erodes
quickly underneath the massive sandstones.
This causes the sandstones to break and tumble
Page | 345 Figure 14.13 | Physiographic provinces of
Source: Wikimedia Commons
License: Public Domain Introductory Geology Physiogr aphic Provinces downhill making the Rock Cities that are
a tourist attraction surrounding Lookout
Mountain. The sands are Pennsylvanian in
age and interbedded within them are thick
coal deposits of ancient forests. These deposits were mined in the past, but for the
most part are not currently active. The
northeastern corner of the state is in the
Blue Ridge physiographic province, which
contains mountains consisting of ancient
igneous and metamorphic rock. This area of
Georgia contains large protected areas that
preserve its natural beauty (such as Chattahoochee National Forest) and contains
spectacular waterfalls as seen at Tallulah
Falls State Park (Figure 14.14).
Figure 14.14 | Tallulah Falls State Park in
The central portion of the state is within
the Piedmont Province that consists of rollAuthor: Stanislav Vitebskiy
ing hills of igneous and metamorphic rocks
License: CC BY-ND 2.0
punctuated with large batholiths. This region has several important geologic resources. First, the granite within the Piedmont has been mined for buildings, monuments, and memorial stones. The granite
mining industry is one of the leading producers of granite within the United State,
which is centered in Elberton, Georgia. The Piedmont Provin...
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