The Piedmont and Blue Ridge are dynamic landscapes that have undergone substantial change since the orogenies that ended in late Paleozoic or, as some believe, early Mesozoic time. The southern Blue Ridge region south of Roanoke, Va., lies on the crest of a topographic uplift that corresponds to the eastern continental drainage divide. To the north, this uplift and divide cross the Appalachian Valley and form the crest of the Appalachian Plateaus as far north as central Pennsylvania. The northern Blue Ridge Mountains as well as parts of the Piedmont are on the eastern part of the uplift area. The southeastern margin of the uplift corresponds to a line within the Piedmont physiographic province that extends northeastward from the Tallapoosa River at the Fall Zone and crosses the Rappahannock River at the Fall Zone. The differential elevation on either side of this line is sharp in some places, as, for example, northeast of Atlanta, Ga. In other places, the difference in elevation is difficult to detect, and, in effect, the line becomes a broad monoclinal slope.
The region as a whole can be divided into at least six broad subregions that have somewhat different histories in late geologic time.
The Piedmont Lowlands subprovince, southeast of the uplifted area, is dominated by a monotonous topography of low rounded ridges and ravines largely underlain by saprolite on crystalline rocks. Isolated ranges of hills of greater relief are scattered across the region; those investigated are directly related to the presence of erosionally resistant rocks. Stream patterns as well as broad topographic forms indicate that although the southern part of the Piedmont Lowlands was probably once covered by younger sediments, this area has been exposed to erosion for a long time. In North Carolina, the inner part of the Piedmont Lowlands has strongly trellised stream patterns, which suggest that subaerial erosion was active for an even longer time period, perhaps since the latest orogeny. North of the Cape Fear River, the outer part of the Piedmont Lowlands was covered by either fluvial or marine sediments or both, probably during Miocene time. Tectonic activity has affected the Piedmont Lowlands in late geologic time. The Fall Zone that forms the southeast border is, at least in places, controlled by faults active in Tertiary time. Late faults have also been found in the Pine Mountain area of Georgia. Minor differences in relief affecting large regions within the Piedmont Lowlands may be related to different rates of uplift in addition to rock resistance, either past or present.
The Piedmont northeast of the Potomac River (Northeastern Highlands) rises to more than 300 m in altitude. The major streams have convex profiles that steepen as they near the Coastal Plain. Unusually narrow valleys and broad upland surfaces indicate an increased rate of erosion and show that the relief is now or recently has been increasing because of uplift or tilting.
West of the southern end of the Piedmont Lowlands is an area herein called the Southwestern Highlands that in some respects is similar. The area is crossed by two large streams that have convex profiles. The highest mountain ranges in the area rise to altitudes greater than 600 m.
Northwest of the Piedmont Lowlands, the topography and relief are higher, and in some places, the rise is gradual, forming a Foothill zone between the Piedmont Lowlands and the high Blue Ridge. This zone is morphologically more complex than the Piedmont Lowlands. North of the Roanoke River, the foothills are commonly chains of isolated hills and ridges generally underlain by resistant rocks. The hills increase in height near the Blue Ridge, an indication that they owe their height to tectonism of late geologic age. South of the Yadkin River, the hills are believed to be residual, the remnants of a larger highland that has been only partially reduced to the lower relief of the general Piedmont surface.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Physiographic divisions and differential uplift in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge