Appalachian Mountains

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Appalachian Mountains
Appalachians
MonNatForest.jpg
August 2007 view from the slopes of Back Allegheny Mountain, looking east; visible are Allegheny Mountain (in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia, middle distance), and Shenandoah Mountain (in the George Washington National Forest of Virginia, far distance)
Highest point
Peak Mount Mitchell
Elevation 6,684 ft (2,037 m)
Dimensions
Length1,500 mi (2,400 km)
Geography
Greatvalley-map.png
CountriesUnited States, and Canada
State/Province Newfoundland and Labrador, [1] [2] Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Québec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama
Range coordinates 40°N78°W / 40°N 78°W / 40; -78 Coordinates: 40°N78°W / 40°N 78°W / 40; -78
Geology
Orogeny Taconic, Acadian, Alleghanian
Age of rock OrdovicianPermian

The Appalachian Mountains [lower-alpha 1] , often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period. They once reached elevations similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before experiencing natural erosion. [4] [5] The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east–west travel, as it forms a series of alternating ridgelines and valleys oriented in opposition to most highways and railroads running east–west.

Mountain range A geographic area containing several geologically related mountains

A mountain range or hill range is a series of mountains or hills ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similarity in form, structure, and alignment that have arisen from the same cause, usually an orogeny. Mountain ranges are formed by a variety of geological processes, but most of the significant ones on Earth are the result of plate tectonics. Mountain ranges are also found on many planetary mass objects in the Solar System and are likely a feature of most terrestrial planets.

North America Continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere

North America is a continent entirely within the Northern Hemisphere and almost all within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered by some to be a northern subcontinent of the Americas. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean, and to the southeast by South America and the Caribbean Sea.

The Ordovician is a geologic period and system, the second of six periods of the Paleozoic Era. The Ordovician spans 41.2 million years from the end of the Cambrian Period 485.4 million years ago (Mya) to the start of the Silurian Period 443.8 Mya.

Contents

Definitions vary on the precise boundaries of the Appalachians. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines the Appalachian Highlands physiographic division as consisting of thirteen provinces: the Atlantic Coast Uplands, Eastern Newfoundland Atlantic, Maritime Acadian Highlands, Maritime Plain, Notre Dame and Mégantic Mountains, Western Newfoundland Mountains, Piedmont, Blue Ridge, Valley and Ridge, Saint Lawrence Valley, Appalachian Plateaus, New England province, and the Adirondack areas. [6] [7] A common variant definition does not include the Adirondack Mountains, which geologically belong to the Grenville Orogeny and have a different geological history from the rest of the Appalachians. [8] [9] [10]

United States Geological Survey Scientific agency of the United States government

The United States Geological Survey is a scientific agency of the United States government. The scientists of the USGS study the landscape of the United States, its natural resources, and the natural hazards that threaten it. The organization has four major science disciplines, concerning biology, geography, geology, and hydrology. The USGS is a fact-finding research organization with no regulatory responsibility.

The physiographic regions of the world are a means of defining the Earth's landforms into distinct regions, based upon the classic three-tiered approach by Nevin Fenneman in 1916, that further defines landforms into: 1. physiographic divisions; 2. physiographic provinces; and 3. physiographic sections. This foundational model, which Fenneman used to classify the United States, was the basis for similar classifications of other continents later, and is still considered basically valid.

The Maritime Plain is a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian division. The Maritime Plain runs around the coast of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia from the south shore of Chaleur Bay and includes Prince Edward Island and the Magdalen Islands. The Kouchibouguac National Park lies in the New Brunswick lowlands, part of the Maritime Plain.

Overview

The mountain range is mostly in the United States (U.S.) but it extends into southeastern Canada, forming a zone from 100 to 300 mi (160 to 480 km) wide, running from the island of Newfoundland 1,500 mi (2,400 km) southwestward to Central Alabama in the United States.[ discuss ] The range covers parts of the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon, which comprise an overseas territory of France. The system is divided into a series of ranges, with the individual mountains averaging around 3,000 ft (910 m). The highest of the group is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet (2,037 m), which is the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Canada's southern border with the United States, stretching some 8,891 kilometres (5,525 mi), is the world's longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanized, with over 80 percent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, with 70% of citizens residing within 100 kilometres (62 mi) of the southern border. Canada's climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons.

Newfoundland (island) Island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

Newfoundland is a large Canadian island off the east coast of the North American mainland, and the most populous part of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It has 29 percent of the province's land area. The island is separated from the Labrador Peninsula by the Strait of Belle Isle and from Cape Breton Island by the Cabot Strait. It blocks the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River, creating the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, the world's largest estuary. Newfoundland's nearest neighbour is the French overseas community of Saint-Pierre and Miquelon.

Central Alabama is the region in the state of Alabama that stretches 170 miles (270 km) from its western border with Mississippi to the eastern border with Georgia and 136 miles (219 km) from the northern border of Cullman County to the Alabama River in southern Autauga County. The region's population was 1,870,970 as of 2008. The Birmingham television market reaches approximately the same area.

The term Appalachian refers to several different regions associated with the mountain range. Most broadly, it refers to the entire mountain range with its surrounding hills and the dissected plateau region. The term is often used more restrictively to refer to regions in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, usually including areas in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina, as well as sometimes extending as far south as northern Alabama, Georgia and western South Carolina, and as far north as Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, and parts of southern upstate New York.

Kentucky State of the United States of America

Kentucky, officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a state located in the east south-central region of the United States. Although styled as the "State of Kentucky" in the law creating it, (because in Kentucky's first constitution, the name state was used) Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth. Originally a part of Virginia, in 1792 Kentucky split from it and became the 15th state to join the Union. Kentucky is the 37th most extensive and the 26th most populous of the 50 United States.

Tennessee State of the United States of America

Tennessee is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the 36th largest and the 16th most populous of the 50 United States. Tennessee is bordered by Kentucky to the north, Virginia to the northeast, North Carolina to the east, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south, Arkansas to the west, and Missouri to the northwest. The Appalachian Mountains dominate the eastern part of the state, and the Mississippi River forms the state's western border. Nashville is the state's capital and largest city, with a 2017 population of 667,560 and a 2017 metro population of 1,903,045. Tennessee's second largest city is Memphis, which had a population of 652,236 in 2017.

Virginia State of the United States of America

Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States located between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth are shaped by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Chesapeake Bay, which provide habitat for much of its flora and fauna. The capital of the Commonwealth is Richmond; Virginia Beach is the most populous city, and Fairfax County is the most populous political subdivision. The Commonwealth's estimated population as of 2018 is over 8.5 million.

The Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas and Oklahoma were originally part of the Appalachians as well but became disconnected through geologic history.

Ouachita Mountains

The Ouachita Mountains, simply referred to as the Ouachitas, are a mountain range in western Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. They are formed by a thick succession of highly deformed Paleozoic strata constituting the Ouachita Fold and Thrust Belt, one of the important orogenic belts of North America. The Ouachitas continue in the subsurface to the southeast where they make a poorly understood connection with the Appalachians and to the southwest where they join with the Marathon area of West Texas. Together with the Ozark Plateaus, the Ouachitas form the U.S. Interior Highlands. The highest natural point is Mount Magazine at 2,753 feet.

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.

Oklahoma State of the United States of America

Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.

Origin of the name

Detail of Diego Gutierrez's 1562 map of the Western Hemisphere, showing the first known use of a variation of the place name "Appalachia" ("Apalchen") - from the map Americae sive qvartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio Gutierrez-1562-detail-app1.jpg
Detail of Diego Gutiérrez's 1562 map of the Western Hemisphere, showing the first known use of a variation of the place name "Appalachia" ("Apalchen") – from the map Americae sive qvartae orbis partis nova et exactissima descriptio

While exploring inland along the northern coast of Florida in 1528, the members of the Narváez expedition, including Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, found a Native American village near present-day Tallahassee, Florida whose name they transcribed as Apalchen or Apalachen [a.paˈla.tʃɛn] . The name was soon altered by the Spanish to Apalachee and used as a name for the tribe and region spreading well inland to the north. Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition first entered Apalachee territory on June 15, 1528, and applied the name. Now spelled "Appalachian," it is the fourth-oldest surviving European place-name in the US. [11]

Narváez expedition

The Narváez expedition was a Spanish journey of exploration and colonization started in 1527 that intended to establish colonial settlements and garrisons in Florida. The expedition was initially led by Pánfilo de Narváez, who died in 1528. More men died as the expedition traveled west along the unexplored Gulf Coast of the present-day United States and into the American Southwest. Only four of the expedition's original members survived, reaching Mexico City in 1536. These survivors were the first known Europeans and Africans to see the Mississippi River, and to cross the Gulf of Mexico and Texas.

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca Spanish explorer of the New World

Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer of the New World, and one of four survivors of the 1527 Narváez expedition. During eight years of traveling across the US Southwest, he became a trader and faith healer to various Native American tribes before reconnecting with Spanish civilization in Mexico in 1536. After returning to Spain in 1537, he wrote an account, first published in 1542 as La relación y comentarios, which in later editions was retitled Naufragios ("Shipwrecks"). Cabeza de Vaca is sometimes considered a proto-anthropologist for his detailed accounts of the many tribes of Native Americans that he encountered.

Native Americans in the United States Indigenous peoples of the United States (except Hawaii)

Native Americans, also known as American Indians, Indigenous Americans and other terms, are the indigenous peoples of the United States, except Hawaii. There are over 500 federally recognized tribes within the US, about half of which are associated with Indian reservations. The term "American Indian" excludes Native Hawaiians and some Alaska Natives, while Native Americans are American Indians, plus Alaska Natives of all ethnicities. Native Hawaiians are not counted as Native Americans by the US Census, instead being included in the Census grouping of "Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander".

After the de Soto expedition in 1540, Spanish cartographers began to apply the name of the tribe to the mountains themselves. The first cartographic appearance of Apalchen is on Diego Gutierrez's map of 1562; the first use for the mountain range is the map of Jacques le Moyne de Morgues in 1565. [12]

The name was not commonly used for the whole mountain range until the late 19th century. A competing and often more popular name was the "Allegheny Mountains", "Alleghenies", and even "Alleghania". In the early 19th century, Washington Irving proposed renaming the United States either Appalachia or Alleghania. [13]

In U.S. dialects in the southern regions of the Appalachians, the word is pronounced /ˌæpəˈlæɪnz/ , with the third syllable sounding like "latch". In northern parts of the mountain range, it is pronounced /ˌæpəˈlɪnz/ or /ˌæpəˈlʃɪnz/ ; the third syllable is like "lay", and the fourth "chins" or "shins". [14] There is often great debate between the residents of the regions as to which pronunciation is the more correct one. Elsewhere, a commonly accepted pronunciation for the adjective Appalachian is /ˌæpəˈlæiən/ , with the last two syllables "-ian" pronounced as in the word "Romanian". [15]

Geography

Regions

Blue Ridge Mountains Appleorchardmountain.jpg
Blue Ridge Mountains

The whole system may be divided into three great sections: [16]

Bald Mountains Greene-county-bald-mtns-tn1.jpg
Bald Mountains

The Adirondack Mountains in New York are sometimes considered part of the Appalachian chain but, geologically speaking, are a southern extension of the Laurentian Mountains of Canada. [8] [9] [10]

Shaded relief map of the Cumberland Plateau and Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians on the Virginia-West Virginia border WV plateau.jpg
Shaded relief map of the Cumberland Plateau and Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians on the VirginiaWest Virginia border

In addition to the true folded mountains, known as the ridge and valley province, the area of dissected plateau to the north and west of the mountains is usually grouped with the Appalachians. This includes the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York, the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and the Allegheny Plateau of southwestern New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia. This same plateau is known as the Cumberland Plateau in southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, western Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and northern Alabama.

The dissected plateau area, while not actually made up of geological mountains, is popularly called "mountains," especially in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, and while the ridges are not high, the terrain is extremely rugged. In Ohio and New York, some of the plateau has been glaciated, which has rounded off the sharp ridges and filled the valleys to some extent. The glaciated regions are usually referred to as hill country rather than mountains.

The Appalachian region is generally considered the geographical divide between the eastern seaboard of the United States and the Midwest region of the country. The Eastern Continental Divide follows the Appalachian Mountains from Pennsylvania to Georgia.

The Appalachian Trail is a 2,175-mile (3,500 km) hiking trail that runs all the way from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia, passing over or past a large part of the Appalachian system. The International Appalachian Trail is an extension of this hiking trail into the Canadian portion of the Appalachian range in New Brunswick and Quebec.

Chief summits

The Appalachian belt includes, with the ranges enumerated above, the plateaus sloping southward to the Atlantic Ocean in New England, and south-eastward to the border of the coastal plain through the central and southern Atlantic states; and on the north-west, the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus declining toward the Great Lakes and the interior plains. A remarkable feature of the belt is the longitudinal chain of broad valleys, including The Great Appalachian Valley, which in the southerly sections divides the mountain system into two unequal portions, but in the northernmost lies west of all the ranges possessing typical Appalachian features, and separates them from the Adirondack group. The mountain system has no axis of dominating altitudes, but in every portion, the summits rise to rather uniform heights, and, especially in the central section, the various ridges and intermontane valleys have the same trend as the system itself. None of the summits reaches the region of perpetual snow. [16]

Old fault exposed by roadcut near Hazleton, Pennsylvania, along Interstate 81, such faults are common in the folded Appalachians Appalachian fault.jpg
Old fault exposed by roadcut near Hazleton, Pennsylvania, along Interstate 81, such faults are common in the folded Appalachians

Mountains of the Long Range in Newfoundland reach heights of nearly 2,700 ft (800 m). In the Chic-Choc and Notre Dame mountain ranges in Quebec, the higher summits rise above 4,000 ft (1,200 m) in elevation. Isolated peaks and small ranges in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick vary from 1,000 to 2,700 ft (300 to 800 m). In Maine several peaks exceed 4,000 ft (1,200 m), including Mount Katahdin at 5,267 feet (1,605 m). In New Hampshire, many summits rise above 5,000 ft (1,500 m), including Mount Washington in the White Mountains at 6,288 ft (1,917 m), Adams at 5,771 ft (1,759 m), Jefferson at 5,712 ft (1,741 m), Monroe at 5,380 ft (1,640 m), Madison at 5,367 ft (1,636 m), Lafayette at 5,249 feet (1,600 m), and Lincoln at 5,089 ft (1,551 m). In the Green Mountains the highest point, Mt. Mansfield, is 4,393 ft (1,339 m) in elevation; others include Killington Peak at 4,226 ft (1,288 m), Camel's Hump at 4,083 ft (1,244 m), Mt. Abraham at 4,006 ft (1,221 m), and a number of other heights exceeding 3,000 ft (900 m). [16]

In Pennsylvania, there are over sixty summits that rise over 2,500 ft (800 m); the summits of Mount Davis and Blue Knob rise over 3,000 ft (900 m). In Maryland, Eagle Rock and Dans Mountain are conspicuous points reaching 3,162 ft (964 m) and 2,882 ft (878 m) respectively. On the same side of the Great Valley, south of the Potomac, are the Pinnacle 3,007 feet (917 m) and Pidgeon Roost 3,400 ft (1,000 m). [16] In West Virginia, more than 150 peaks rise above 4,000 ft (1,200 m), including Spruce Knob 4,863 ft (1,482 m), the highest point in the Allegheny Mountains. A number of other points in the state rise above 4,800 ft (1,500 m). Cheat Mountain(Snowshoe Mountain) at Thorny Flat 4,848 ft (1,478 m) and Bald Knob 4,842 ft (1,476 m) are among the more notable peaks in West Virginia.

Cliffs overlooking the New River near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia Cliffs above Gauley-27527.jpg
Cliffs overlooking the New River near Gauley Bridge, West Virginia

The Blue Ridge Mountains, rising in southern Pennsylvania and there known as South Mountain, attain elevations of about 2,000 ft (600 m) in that state. South Mountain achieves its highest point just below the Mason-Dixon line in Maryland at Quirauk Mountain 2,145 ft (654 m) and then diminishes in height southward to the Potomac River. Once in Virginia the Blue Ridge again reaches 2,000 ft (600 m) and higher. In the Virginia Blue Ridge, the following are some of the highest peaks north of the Roanoke River: Stony Man 4,031 ft (1,229 m), Hawksbill Mountain 4,066 ft (1,239 m), Apple Orchard Mountain 4,225 ft (1,288 m) and Peaks of Otter 4,001 and 3,875 ft (1,220 and 1,181 m). South of the Roanoke River, along the Blue Ridge, are Virginia's highest peaks including Whitetop Mountain 5,520 ft (1,680 m) and Mount Rogers 5,729 ft (1,746 m), the highest point in the Commonwealth.

Chief summits in the southern section of the Blue Ridge are located along two main crests—the Western or Unaka Front along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and the Eastern Front in North Carolina—or one of several "cross ridges" between the two main crests. Major subranges of the Eastern Front include the Black Mountains, Great Craggy Mountains, and Great Balsam Mountains, and its chief summits include Grandfather Mountain 5,964 ft (1,818 m) near the Tennessee-North Carolina border, Mount Mitchell 6,684 ft (2,037 m) in the Blacks, and Black Balsam Knob 6,214 ft (1,894 m) and Cold Mountain 6,030 ft (1,840 m) in the Great Balsams. The Western Blue Ridge Front is subdivided into the Unaka Range, the Bald Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Unicoi Mountains, and its major peaks include Roan Mountain 6,285 ft (1,916 m) in the Unakas, Big Bald 5,516 ft (1,681 m) and Max Patch 4,616 ft (1,407 m) in the Bald Mountains, Clingmans Dome 6,643 ft (2,025 m), Mount Le Conte 6,593 feet (2,010 m), and Mount Guyot 6,621 ft (2,018 m) in the Great Smokies, and Big Frog Mountain 4,224 ft (1,287 m) near the Tennessee-Georgia-North Carolina border. Prominent summits in the cross ridges include Waterrock Knob (6,292 ft (1,918 m)) in the Plott Balsams. Across northern Georgia, numerous peaks exceed 4,000 ft (1,200 m), including Brasstown Bald, the state's highest, at 4,784 ft (1,458 m) and 4,696 ft (1,431 m) Rabun Bald.

Drainage

Paleogeographic reconstruction showing the Appalachian Basin area during the Middle Devonian period Eastern North American Paleogeograpy Middle Devonian.png
Paleogeographic reconstruction showing the Appalachian Basin area during the Middle Devonian period

There are many geological issues concerning the rivers and streams of the Appalachians. In spite of the existence of the Great Appalachian Valley, many of the main rivers are transverse to the mountain system axis. The drainage divide of the Appalachians follows a tortuous course which crosses the mountainous belt just north of the New River in Virginia. South of the New River, rivers head into the Blue Ridge, cross the higher Unakas, receive important tributaries from the Great Valley, and traversing the Cumberland Plateau in spreading gorges (water gaps), escape by way of the Cumberland River and the Tennessee River rivers to the Ohio River and the Mississippi River, and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. In the central section, north of the New River, the rivers, rising in or just beyond the Valley Ridges, flow through great gorges to the Great Valley, and then across the Blue Ridge to tidal estuaries penetrating the coastal plain via the Roanoke River, James River, Potomac River, and Susquehanna River. [16]

In the northern section the height of land lies on the inland side of the mountainous belt, and thus the main lines of drainage run from north to south, exemplified by the Hudson River. [16] However, the valley through which the Hudson River flows was cut by the gigantic glaciers of the Ice Ages—the same glaciers that deposited their terminal moraines in southern New York and formed the east-west Long Island.

Geology

USGS Appalachian zones in the United States Appalachian map.svg
USGS Appalachian zones in the United States

A look at rocks exposed in today's Appalachian mountains reveals elongated belts of folded and thrust faulted marine sedimentary rocks, volcanic rocks and slivers of ancient ocean floor, which provides strong evidence that these rocks were deformed during plate collision. The birth of the Appalachian ranges, some 480 million years ago, marks the first of several mountain-building plate collisions that culminated in the construction of the supercontinent Pangaea with the Appalachians near the center. Because North America and Africa were connected, the Appalachians formed part of the same mountain chain as the Little Atlas in Morocco. This mountain range, known as the Central Pangean Mountains, extended into Scotland, before the Mesozoic Era opening of the Iapetus Ocean, from the North America/Europe collision (See Caledonian orogeny).

During the middle Ordovician Period (about 496–440 million years ago), a change in plate motions set the stage for the first Paleozoic mountain-building event (Taconic orogeny) in North America. The once-quiet Appalachian passive margin changed to a very active plate boundary when a neighboring oceanic plate, the Iapetus, collided with and began sinking beneath the North American craton. With the birth of this new subduction zone, the early Appalachians were born. Along the continental margin, volcanoes grew, coincident with the initiation of subduction. Thrust faulting uplifted and warped older sedimentary rock laid down on the passive margin. As the mountains rose, erosion began to wear them down. Streams carried rock debris downslope to be deposited in nearby lowlands. The Taconic Orogeny was just the first of a series of mountain building plate collisions that contributed to the formation of the Appalachians, culminating in the collision of North America and Africa (see Alleghanian orogeny). [18]

By the end of the Mesozoic Era, the Appalachian Mountains had been eroded to an almost flat plain. [18] It was not until the region was uplifted during the Cenozoic Era that the distinctive topography of the present formed. [19] Uplift rejuvenated the streams, which rapidly responded by cutting downward into the ancient bedrock. Some streams flowed along weak layers that define the folds and faults created many millions of years earlier. Other streams downcut so rapidly that they cut right across the resistant folded rocks of the mountain core, carving canyons across rock layers and geologic structures.

Mineral resources

The Appalachian Mountains contain major deposits of anthracite coal as well as bituminous coal. In the folded mountains the coal is in metamorphosed form as anthracite, represented by the Coal Region of northeastern Pennsylvania. The bituminous coal fields of western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, southeastern Ohio, eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and West Virginia contain the sedimentary form of coal. [20] The mountain top removal method of coal mining, in which entire mountain tops are removed, is currently threatening vast areas and ecosystems of the Appalachian Mountain region. [21]

The 1859 discovery of commercial quantities of petroleum in the Appalachian Mountains of western Pennsylvania started the modern United States petroleum industry. [22] Recent discoveries of commercial natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation and Utica Shale formations have once again focused oil industry attention on the Appalachian Basin.

Some plateaus of the Appalachian Mountains contain metallic minerals such as iron and zinc. [23]

Ecology

Flora

View from Mount Mitchell. At 6,684 ft (2,037 m), Mount Mitchell in North Carolina is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River Mount Mitchell-27527.jpg
View from Mount Mitchell. At 6,684 ft (2,037 m), Mount Mitchell in North Carolina is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River

The floras of the Appalachians are diverse and vary primarily in response to geology, latitude, elevation and moisture availability. Geobotanically, they constitute a floristic province of the North American Atlantic Region. The Appalachians consist primarily of deciduous broad-leaf trees and evergreen needle-leaf conifers, but also contain the evergreen broad-leaf American holly (Ilex opaca), and the deciduous needle-leaf conifer, the tamarack, or eastern larch (Larix laricina).

The dominant northern and high elevation conifer is the red spruce (Picea rubens), which grows from near sea level to above 4,000 ft (1,200 m) above sea level (asl) in northern New England and southeastern Canada. It also grows southward along the Appalachian crest to the highest elevations of the southern Appalachians, as in North Carolina and Tennessee. In the central Appalachians it is usually confined above 3,000 ft (900 m) asl, except for a few cold valleys in which it reaches lower elevations. In the southern Appalachians, it is restricted to higher elevations. Another species is the black spruce (Picea mariana), which extends farthest north of any conifer in North America, is found at high elevations in the northern Appalachians, and in bogs as far south as Pennsylvania.

The Appalachians are also home to two species of fir, the boreal balsam fir (Abies balsamea), and the southern high elevation endemic, Fraser fir (Abies fraseri). Fraser fir is confined to the highest parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains, where along with red spruce it forms a fragile ecosystem known as the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest. Fraser fir rarely occurs below 5,500 ft (1,700 m), and becomes the dominant tree type at 6,200 ft (1,900 m). [24] By contrast, balsam fir is found from near sea level to the tree line in the northern Appalachians, but ranges only as far south as Virginia and West Virginia in the central Appalachians, where it is usually confined above 3,900 ft (1,200 m) asl, except in cold valleys. Curiously, it is associated with oaks in Virginia. The balsam fir of Virginia and West Virginia is thought by some to be a natural hybrid between the more northern variety and Fraser fir. While red spruce is common in both upland and bog habitats, balsam fir, as well as black spruce and tamarack, are more characteristic of the latter. However balsam fir also does well in soils with a pH as high as 6. [25]

Shenandoah National Park Rockytop and Patterson Ridges (13083210443).jpg
Shenandoah National Park

Eastern or Canada hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is another important evergreen needle-leaf conifer that grows along the Appalachian chain from north to south but is confined to lower elevations than red spruce and the firs. It generally occupies richer and less acidic soils than the spruce and firs and is characteristic of deep, shaded and moist mountain valleys and coves. It is, unfortunately, subject to the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), an introduced insect, that is rapidly extirpating it as a forest tree. Less abundant, and restricted to the southern Appalachians, is Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana). Like Canada hemlock, this tree suffers severely from the hemlock woolly adelgid.

Several species of pines characteristic of the Appalachians are eastern white pine (Pinus strobus), Virginia pine (Pinus virginiana), pitch pine (Pinus rigida), Table Mountain pine (Pinus pungens) and shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata). Red pine (Pinus resinosa) is a boreal species that forms a few high elevation outliers as far south as West Virginia. All of these species except white pine tend to occupy sandy, rocky, poor soil sites, which are mostly acidic in character. White pine, a large species valued for its timber, tends to do best in rich, moist soil, either acidic or alkaline in character. Pitch pine is also at home in acidic, boggy soil, and Table Mountain pine may occasionally be found in this habitat as well. Shortleaf pine is generally found in warmer habitats and at lower elevations than the other species. All the species listed do best in open or lightly shaded habitats, although white pine also thrives in shady coves, valleys, and on floodplains.

The view from Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway Craggy Gardens-27527.jpg
The view from Craggy Gardens on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Appalachians are characterized by a wealth of large, beautiful deciduous broadleaf (hardwood) trees. Their occurrences are best summarized and described in E. Lucy Braun's 1950 classic, Deciduous Forests of Eastern North America (Macmillan, New York). The most diverse and richest forests are the mixed mesophytic or medium moisture types, which are largely confined to rich, moist montane soils of the southern and central Appalachians, particularly in the Cumberland and Allegheny Mountains, but also thrive in the southern Appalachian coves. Characteristic canopy species are white basswood (Tilia heterophylla), yellow buckeye (Aesculus octandra), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera), white ash (Fraxinus americana) and yellow birch (Betula alleganiensis). Other common trees are red maple (Acer rubrum), shagbark and bitternut hickories (Carya ovata and C. cordiformis) and black or sweet birch (Betula lenta). Small understory trees and shrubs include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin). There are also hundreds of perennial and annual herbs, among them such herbal and medicinal plants as American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa).

The foregoing trees, shrubs, and herbs are also more widely distributed in less rich mesic forests that generally occupy coves, stream valleys and flood plains throughout the southern and central Appalachians at low and intermediate elevations. In the northern Appalachians and at higher elevations of the central and southern Appalachians these diverse mesic forests give way to less diverse "northern hardwoods" with canopies dominated only by American beech, sugar maple, American basswood (Tilia americana) and yellow birch and with far fewer species of shrubs and herbs.

Dryer and rockier uplands and ridges are occupied by oak-chestnut type forests dominated by a variety of oaks (Quercus spp.), hickories (Carya spp.) and, in the past, by the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). The American chestnut was virtually eliminated as a canopy species by the introduced fungal chestnut blight (Cryphonectaria parasitica), but lives on as sapling-sized sprouts that originate from roots, which are not killed by the fungus. In present-day forest canopies, chestnut has been largely replaced by oaks.

The oak forests of the southern and central Appalachians consist largely of black, northern red, white, chestnut and scarlet oaks (Quercus velutina, Q. rubra, Q. alba, Q. prinus and Q. coccinea) and hickories, such as the pignut (Carya glabra) in particular. The richest forests, which grade into mesic types, usually in coves and on gentle slopes, have dominantly white and northern red oaks, while the driest sites are dominated by chestnut oak, or sometimes by scarlet or northern red oaks. In the northern Appalachians the oaks, except for white and northern red, drop out, while the latter extends farthest north.

Great laurel thicket in the Pisgah National Forest Rhododendron maximum-27527.jpg
Great laurel thicket in the Pisgah National Forest

The oak forests generally lack the diverse small tree, shrub and herb layers of mesic forests. Shrubs are generally ericaceous, and include the evergreen mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), various species of blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata), a number of deciduous rhododendrons (azaleas), and smaller heaths such as teaberry (Gaultheria procumbens) and trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens). The evergreen great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) is characteristic of moist stream valleys. These occurrences are in line with the prevailing acidic character of most oak forest soils. In contrast, the much rarer chinquapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) demands alkaline soils and generally grows where limestone rock is near the surface. Hence no ericaceous shrubs are associated with it.

The Appalachian floras also include a diverse assemblage of bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), as well as fungi. Some species are rare and/or endemic. As with vascular plants, these tend to be closely related to the character of the soils and thermal environment in which they are found.

Eastern deciduous forests are subject to a number of serious insect and disease outbreaks. Among the most conspicuous is that of the introduced gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), which infests primarily oaks, causing severe defoliation and tree mortality. But it also has the benefit of eliminating weak individuals, and thus improving the genetic stock, as well as creating rich habitat of a type through accumulation of dead wood. Because hardwoods sprout so readily, this moth is not as harmful as the hemlock woolly adelgid. Perhaps more serious is the introduced beech bark disease complex, which includes both a scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga) and fungal components.

Cranberry Glades, a bog preserve in West Virginia Cranberry-glades-fog-1.jpg
Cranberry Glades, a bog preserve in West Virginia

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Appalachian forests were subject to severe and destructive logging and land clearing, which resulted in the designation of the national forests and parks as well many state protected areas. However, these and a variety of other destructive activities continue, albeit in diminished forms; and thus far only a few ecologically based management practices have taken hold.

Appalachian bogs are boreal ecosystems, which occur in many places in the Appalachians, particularly the Allegheny and Blue Ridge subranges. [26] [27] Though popularly called bogs, many of them are technically fens. [28]

Fauna

Animals that characterize the Appalachian forests include five species of tree squirrels. The most commonly seen is the low to moderate elevation eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis). Occupying similar habitat is the slightly larger fox squirrel (Sciurus niger) and the much smaller southern flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans). More characteristic of cooler northern and high elevation habitat is the red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), whereas the Appalachian northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus), which closely resembles the southern flying squirrel, is confined to northern hardwood and spruce-fir forests.

Southern flying squirrel Southern Flying Squirrel-27527-3.jpg
Southern flying squirrel

As familiar as squirrels are the eastern cottontail rabbit (Silvilagus floridanus) and the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). The latter in particular has greatly increased in abundance as a result of the extirpation of the eastern wolf (Canis lupus lycaon) and the cougar. This has led to the overgrazing and browsing of many plants of the Appalachian forests, as well as destruction of agricultural crops. Other deer include the moose (Alces alces), found only in the north, and the elk (Cervus canadensis), which, although once extirpated, is now making a comeback, through transplantation, in the southern and central Appalachians. In Quebec, the Chic-Chocs host the only population of caribou (Rangifer tarandus) south of the St. Lawrence River. An additional species that is common in the north but extends its range southward at high elevations to Virginia and West Virginia is the varying of snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). However, these central Appalachian populations are scattered and very small.

Another species of great interest is the beaver (Castor canadensis), which is showing a great resurgence in numbers after its near extirpation for its pelt. This resurgence is bringing about a drastic alteration in habitat through the construction of dams and other structures throughout the mountains.

Other common forest animals are the black bear (Ursus americanus), striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), raccoon (Procyon lotor), woodchuck (Marmota monax), bobcat (Lynx rufus), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and in recent years, the coyote (Canis latrans), another species favored by the advent of Europeans and the extirpation of eastern and red wolves. European boars were introduced in the early 20th century.

Characteristic birds of the forest are wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo silvestris), ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus), mourning dove (Zenaida macroura), common raven (Corvus corax), wood duck (Aix sponsa), great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), barred owl (Strix varia), screech owl (Megascops asio), red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus), and northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis), as well as a great variety of "songbirds" (Passeriformes), like the warblers in particular.

Male eastern wild turkey Wild Turkey-27527-1.jpg
Male eastern wild turkey

Of great importance are the many species of salamanders and, in particular, the lungless species (Family Plethodontidae) that live in great abundance concealed by leaves and debris, on the forest floor. Most frequently seen, however, is the eastern or red-spotted newt (Notophthalmus viridescens), whose terrestrial eft form is often encountered on the open, dry forest floor. It has been estimated that salamanders represent the largest class of animal biomass in the Appalachian forests. Frogs and toads are of lesser diversity and abundance, but the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is, like the eft, commonly encountered on the dry forest floor, while a number of species of small frogs, such as spring peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), enliven the forest with their calls. Salamanders and other amphibians contribute greatly to nutrient cycling through their consumption of small life forms on the forest floor and in aquatic habitats.

Although reptiles are less abundant and diverse than amphibians, a number of snakes are conspicuous members of the fauna. One of the largest is the non-venomous black rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta obsoleta), while the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis) is among the smallest but most abundant. The American copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix) and the timber rattler (Crotalus horridus) are venomous pit vipers. There are few lizards, but the broad-headed skink (Eumeces laticeps), at up to 13 in (33 cm) in length, and an excellent climber and swimmer, is one of the largest and most spectacular in appearance and action. The most common turtle is the eastern box turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), which is found in both upland and lowland forests in the central and southern Appalachians. Prominent among aquatic species is the large common snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), which occurs throughout the Appalachians.

Appalachian streams are notable for their highly diverse freshwater fish life. Among the most abundant and diverse are those of the minnow family (family Cyprinidae), while species of the colorful darters (Percina spp.) are also abundant. [29]

A characteristic fish of shaded, cool Appalachian forest streams is the wild brook or speckled trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), which is much sought after as a game fish. However, in past years such trout waters have been much degraded by increasing temperatures due to timber cutting, pollution from various sources and potentially, global warming.

See also

Notes

  1. Appalachian is pronounced variably as /ˌæpəˈlʃən/ ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ), /-ˈl-/ , /-ˈlæʃ-/ , /-ˈlæ-/ , /-iən/ . [3]

Related Research Articles

Blue Ridge Mountains mountain range

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a physiographic province of the larger Appalachian Mountains range. The mountain range is located in the eastern United States, and extends 550 miles southwest from southern Pennsylvania through Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. This province consists of northern and southern physiographic regions, which divide near the Roanoke River gap. To the west of the Blue Ridge, between it and the bulk of the Appalachians, lies the Great Appalachian Valley, bordered on the west by the Ridge and Valley province of the Appalachian range.

Great Smoky Mountains American mountain range along North Carolina/Tennessee border

The Great Smoky Mountains are a mountain range rising along the Tennessee–North Carolina border in the southeastern United States. They are a subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and form part of the Blue Ridge Physiographic Province. The range is sometimes called the Smoky Mountains and the name is commonly shortened to the Smokies. The Great Smokies are best known as the home of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which protects most of the range. The park was established in 1934, and, with over 11 million visits per year, it is the most visited national park in the United States.

Allegheny Front

The Allegheny Front is the major southeast- or east-facing escarpment in the Allegheny Mountains in southern Pennsylvania, western Maryland, and eastern West Virginia, USA. The Allegheny Front forms the boundary between the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians to its east and the Appalachian Plateau to its west. The Front is closely associated with the Appalachian Mountains' Eastern Continental Divide, which in this area divides the waters of the Ohio/Mississippi river system, flowing to the Gulf of Mexico, from rivers flowing into Chesapeake Bay and from there into the Atlantic Ocean.

<i>Picea rubens</i> species of plant

Picea rubens, commonly known as red spruce, is a species of spruce native to eastern North America, ranging from eastern Quebec and Nova Scotia, west to the Adirondack Mountains and south through New England along the Appalachians to western North Carolina. This species is also known as yellow spruce, West Virginia spruce, eastern spruce, and he-balsam.

Appalachian Plateau Series of rugged dissected plateaus in the eastern United States

The Appalachian Plateau is a series of rugged dissected plateaus located on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains. The Appalachian Mountains are a mountain range that run down the entire East Coast of the United States. The Appalachian Plateau is the northwestern part of the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from New York to Alabama. The plateau is a second level United States physiographic region, covering parts of the states of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia.

Black Mountains (North Carolina) mountain range in western North Carolina

The Black Mountains are a mountain range in western North Carolina, in the southeastern United States. They are part of the Blue Ridge Province of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Blacks are the highest mountains in the Eastern United States. The range takes its name from the dark appearance of the red spruce and Fraser fir trees that form a spruce-fir forest on the upper slopes which contrasts with the brown or lighter green appearance of the deciduous trees at lower elevations. The Eastern Continental Divide, which runs along the eastern Blue Ridge crest, intersects the southern tip of the Black Mountain range.

Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests ecoregion in the eastern United States

The Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests is an ecoregion of the temperate broadleaf and mixed forests biome, as defined by the World Wildlife Fund. It consists of mesophytic plants west of the Appalachian Mountains in the Southeastern United States.

Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests

The Appalachian-Blue Ridge forests is an ecoregion in the Temperate broadleaf and mixed forests Biome, in the Eastern United States. The ecoregion is located in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, including the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians and the Blue Ridge Mountains. It covers an area of about 61,500 square miles (159,000 km2) in: northeast Alabama and Georgia, northwest South Carolina, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and central West Virginia and Pennsylvania; and small extensions into Kentucky, New Jersey, and New York.

New England/Acadian forests

The New England-Acadian forests are a temperate broadleaf and mixed forest ecoregion that includes a variety of habitats on the hills, mountains and plateaus of New England in the Northeastern United States and Quebec and the Maritime Provinces of Eastern Canada.

Krummholz

Krummholz or krumholtz — also called knieholz — is a type of stunted, deformed vegetation encountered in subarctic and subalpine tree line landscapes, shaped by continual exposure to fierce, freezing winds. Under these conditions, trees can only survive where they are sheltered by rock formations or snow cover. As the lower portion of these trees continues to grow, the coverage becomes extremely dense near the ground. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the formation is known as tuckamore. Krummholz trees are also found on beaches such as the Oregon coast, where trees can become much taller than their subalpine cousins.

Great Balsam Mountains

The Great Balsam Mountains, or Balsam Mountains, are in the mountain region of western North Carolina, United States. The Great Balsams are a subrange of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which in turn are a part of the Appalachian Mountains. The most famous peak in the Great Balsam range is Cold Mountain, which is the centerpiece of author Charles Frazier's bestselling novel Cold Mountain.

Cove (Appalachian Mountains) A small valley in the Appalachian Mountains between two ridge lines

In the central and southern Appalachian Mountains of Eastern North America, a cove is a small valley between two ridge lines that is closed at one or both ends.

Balsam Lake Mountain Westernmost of the Catskill High Peaks in U.S. state of New York

Balsam Lake Mountain is one of the Catskill Mountains, located in the Town of Hardenburgh, New York, United States. It is the westernmost of the range's 35 High Peaks. Its exact height has not been determined, but the highest contour line on topographic maps, 3,720 feet (1,130 m), is usually given as its elevation.

Graham Mountain (New York) Highest privately owned summit in New Yorks Catskill Mountains

Graham Mountain is the seventh highest of the Catskill High Peaks and the highest privately owned mountain in the range. It is located in the town of Hardenburgh, New York, United States.

Marks Knob

Marks Knob is a mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains, in the southeastern United States. It has an elevation of 6,169 feet (1,880 m), with 249 feet (76 m) of clean prominence. Its summit— located near the center of the Eastern Smokies amidst a dense stand of Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest— is a popular bushwhacking destination and one of the most difficult-to-reach summits of the Southern Sixers.

Plott Balsams

The Plott Balsams are a mountain range in western North Carolina, in the southeastern United States. They are part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Province of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. The Plott Balsams stretch from the city of Sylva in the Tuckasegee River valley to the southwest to Maggie Valley in the northeast. The Great Smoky Mountains border the Plott Balsams to the north and the Great Balsam Mountains border the range to the south. The range comprises parts of Jackson County and Haywood County.

Richland Balsam Mountain in the US State of North Carolina

Richland Balsam is a mountain in the Great Balsam Mountains in the U.S. state of North Carolina. Rising to an elevation of 6,410 feet (1,950 m), it is the highest mountain in the Great Balsam range and is among the 20 highest summits in the Appalachian range. The Blue Ridge Parkway reaches an elevation of 6,053 feet (1,845 m)— the parkway's highest point— as it passes over Richland Balsam's southwestern slope. The Jackson County-Haywood County line crosses the mountain's summit.

Southern Appalachian spruce–fir forest

The southern Appalachian spruce–fir forest is an ecoregion of the temperate coniferous forests biome, a type of montane coniferous forest that grows in the highest elevations in the southern Appalachian Mountains of the eastern United States.

Ecotourism in the United States is commonly practiced in protected areas such as national parks and nature reserves. The principles and behaviors of ecotourism are slowly becoming more widespread in the United States; for example, hotels in some regions strive to be more sustainable.

Appalachian temperate rainforest

The Appalachian temperate rainforest is located in the southern Appalachian Mountains of the eastern U.S. About 351,500 square kilometers of forest land is spread across southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, the tip of South Carolina, northern Georgia, and eastern Tennessee. The annual precipitation is more than 60 inches. The Southern Appalachian spruce–fir forest is a temperate rainforest located in the higher elevations in southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina. Fir is dominant at higher elevation, spruce at middle elevation, and mixed forests at low elevation.

References

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Sources

Further reading

Appalachian flora and fauna-related journals