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Ground Water Atlas of the United States: Segment 11, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia

January 1, 1997

Segment 11 consists of the States of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, West Virginia, and the Commonwealths of Pennsylvania and Virginia. All but West Virginia border on the Atlantic Ocean or tidewater. Pennsylvania also borders on Lake Erie. Small parts of northwestern and north-central Pennsylvania drain to Lake Erie and Lake Ontario; the rest of the segment drains either to the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico. Major rivers include the Hudson, the Delaware, the Susquehanna, the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the James, the Chowan, the Neuse, the Tar, the Cape Fear, and the Yadkin-Peedee, all of which drain into the Atlantic Ocean, and the Ohio and its tributaries, which drain to the Gulf of Mexico.

Although rivers are important sources of water supply for many cities, such as Trenton, N.J.; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Baltimore, Md.; Washington, D.C.; Richmond, Va.; and Raleigh, N.C., one-fourth of the population, particularly the people who live on the Coastal Plain, depends on ground water for supply. Such cities as Camden, N.J.; Dover, Del.; Salisbury and Annapolis, Md.; Parkersburg and Weirton, W.Va.; Norfolk, Va.; and New Bern and Kinston, N.C., use ground water as a source of public supply.

All the water in Segment 11 originates as precipitation. Average annual precipitation ranges from less than 36 inches in parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia to more than 80 inches in parts of southwestern North Carolina (fig. 1). In general, precipitation is greatest in mountainous areas (because water tends to condense from moisture-laden air masses as the air passes over the higher altitudes) and near the coast, where water vapor that has been evaporated from the ocean is picked up by onshore winds and falls as precipitation when it reaches the shoreline.

Some of the precipitation returns to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration (evaporation plus transpiration by plants), but much of it either flows overland into streams as direct runoff or enters streams as base flow (discharge from one or more aquifers). The distribution of average annual runoff (fig. 2) is similar to the distribution of precipitation; that is, runoff is generally greatest where precipitation is greatest. Runoff rates range from more than 50 inches per year in parts of western North Carolina to less than 12 inches in parts of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Parts of the seven following physiographic provinces are in Segment 11: the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, the Blue Ridge, the New England, the Valley and Ridge, the Appalachian Plateaus, and the Central Lowland. The provinces generally trend northeastward (fig. 3). The northeastern terminus of the Blue Ridge Province is in south-central Pennsylvania, and the southwestern part of the New England Province, the Reading Prong, ends in east-central Pennsylvania. The topography, lithology, and water-bearing characteristics of the rocks that underlie the Blue Ridge Province and the Reading Prong are similar. Accordingly, for purposes of this study, the hydrology of the Reading Prong is discussed with that of the Blue Ridge Province.

The Coastal Plain Province is a lowland that borders the Atlantic Ocean. The Coastal Plain is as much as 140 miles wide in North Carolina but narrows northeastward to New Jersey where it terminates in Segment 11 at the south shore of Raritan Bay. Although it is generally a flat, seaward-sloping lowland, this province has areas of moderately steep local relief, and its surface locally reaches altitudes of 350 feet in the southwestern part of the North Carolina Coastal Plain.

The Coastal Plain mostly is underlain by semiconsolidated to unconsolidated sediments that consist of silt, clay, and sand, with some gravel and lignite. Some consolidated beds of limestone and sandstone are present. The Coastal Plain sediments range in age from Jurassic to Holocene and dip gently toward the ocean.

The boundary between the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont Provinces is called the Fall Line (fig. 3) because falls and rapids commonly form where streams cross the contact between the consolidated rocks of the Piedmont (fig. 4) and the soft, semiconsolidated to unconsolidated sediments of the Coastal Plain. The increase in stream gradient at the Fall Line provided favorable locations for mills and other installations that harnessed water power during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, and on most major rivers, the Fall Line coincides with the head of navigation.

The Piedmont Province is an area of varied topography that ranges from lowlands to peaks and ridges of moderate altitude and relief. The metamorphic and igneous rocks of this province range in age from Precambrian to Paleozoic and have been sheared, fractured, and folded. Included in this province, however, are sedimentary basins that formed along rifts in the Earth's crust and contain shale, sandstone, and conglomerate of early Mesozoic age, interbedded locally with basaltic lava flows and minor coal beds. The sedimentary rocks and basalt flows are intruded in places by diabase dikes and sills.

The mountain belt of the Blue Ridge Province forms the northwestern margin of the Piedmont in most of Segment 11. This belt consists mostly of igneous and high-rank metamorphic rocks but also includes low-rank metamorphic rocks of late Precambrian age and small areas of sedimentary rocks of Early Cambrian age along its western margin. In this report, the Reading Prong of the New England Province, which is an upland that extends from east of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania northeastward into New Jersey (fig. 3), is treated as part of the Blue Ridge Province. Part of the Reading Prong in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and a small part of the Piedmont Province in northeastern New Jersey have been glaciated. Glacial deposits completely or partly fill some of the valleys, and the eroding action of the glacial ice removed some of the rock from the ridges. Thus, the glaciated parts of the province have a smoother topography and less relief than other parts.

The Valley and Ridge Province is characterized by layered sedimentary rock that has been complexly folded and locally thrust faulted. As the result of repeated cycles of uplift and erosion, resistant layers of well-cemented sandstone and conglomerate form elongate mountain ridges and less resistant, easily eroded layers of limestone, dolomite, and shale form valleys. The rocks of the province range in age from Cambrian to Pennsylvanian. Parts of this province from central Pennsylvania into New Jersey have been glaciated, and glacial deposits fill or partially fill some of the valleys.

The Appalachian Plateaus Province is underlain by rocks that are continuous with those of the Valley and Ridge Province, but in the Appalachian Plateaus the layered rocks are nearly flat-lying or gently tilted and warped, rather than being intensively folded and faulted. The boundary between the two provinces is a prominent southeast-facing scarp called the Allegheny Front in most of the northern part of Segment 11 (fig_ 5) and the Cumberland Escarpment in the southern part. The scarp faces the Valley and Ridge Province, and throughout most of the segment, the eastern edge of the Appalachian Plateaus Province is higher than the ridges in the Valley and Ridge. Like parts of the Reading Prong and the Valley and Ridge Province, the northern part of the Appalachian Plateaus Province in Pennsylvania has been glaciated. In the glaciated section, the surface is mantled by glacial drift, and the valleys are partly filled with glacial deposits.

The northwestern corner of Segment 11 contains a small part of the Central Lowland Province. This flat lowland is underlain by gently dipping sedimentary rocks, some of which are the same geologic formations as those of the Appalachian Plateaus Province. The two provinces are separated by a northwest- facing scarp. Because of the small area of the Central Lowland Province within the segment and the similarity of aquifer properties with those of the glaciated part of the Appalachian Plateaus Province, the two provinces are discussed together in this report.

Publication Year 1997
Title Ground Water Atlas of the United States: Segment 11, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
DOI 10.3133/ha730L
Authors Henry Trapp, Marilee A. Horn
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Hydrologic Atlas
Series Number 730
Index ID ha730L
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization U.S. Geological Survey