Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Cross section of the North Carolina coastal plain from Enfield through Cape Hatteras

January 1, 2019


The Atlantic Coastal Plain, the southeasternmost physiographic province in the United States, is underlain by strata that regionally dip gently eastward and gradually thicken toward the Atlantic Ocean basin. These strata, ranging in age from Middle Jurassic to Holocene, accumulated along the eastern margin of North America after the break-up of the supercontinent Pangaea during the Early Jurassic. In the east-central United States north of Florida, Cape Hatteras is the point of land that most closely approaches the eastern edge of the Atlantic Continental Shelf of the United States. In 1946, Esso (now part of ExxonMobil) drilled a deep oil exploration well to basement rock near the Cape Hatteras lighthouse. No oil or gas was found there, or in any of the other test wells that were drilled within the onshore North Carolina Coastal Plain. Recent work indicates that the top of the oil window lies at 9,000 feet near the base of the Cape Hatteras Esso #1 test well. Therefore, any mature petroleum source rocks that may be present in the North Carolina Coastal Plain are only likely to be found east of the present coastline.

Although the Cape Hatteras test well did not produce oil or gas, it did produce a wealth of stratigraphic information about the outer portion of the onshore Atlantic Continental Shelf. Advances in global stratigraphic correlation, in tandem with our analyses of calcareous nannofossils and dinoflagellate cysts (dinocysts) from the Cape Hatteras test-well spot samples have produced significant advances beyond earlier interpretations of this well and other deep test wells inshore of Cape Hatteras. These results, when coupled with work done offshore of Cape Hatteras, have allowed us to create a more detailed cross section of the North Carolina Coastal Plain and adjacent continental shelf than previously possible.

Publication Year 2019
Title Cross section of the North Carolina coastal plain from Enfield through Cape Hatteras
DOI 10.3133/ofr20191145
Authors Robert E. Weems, Jean Self-Trail, Lucy E. Edwards
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2019-1145
Index ID ofr20191145
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Florence Bascom Geoscience Center