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Southern Crystalline Ridges and Mountains

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About the Southern Crystalline Ridges and Mountains

The Southern Crystalline Ridges and Mountains, also referred to as the Southern Igneous Ridges and Mountains are a major component of the Blue Ridge mountains of the Appalachians. This irregularly-shaped region extends from southern Virginia through North Carolina just into South Carolina and Georgia, but the bulk of the region is located within North Carolina. The northernmost portion in Virginia is thin and scattered.

This region consists of ridges and mountains separated by high gaps. Slopes are steep and mountain flanks are well-dissected. The crests and peaks reach up to 2,600-5,728 feet, with local relief ranging from 1,150-1,500 feet, some of the most rugged terrain in the Appalachians. The climate here is cool and has very high precpitation, especially in the south and at the higher altitudes, with annual precipitation averaging over 90 inches annually in places. Although well inland from the ocean, this region is classified in the Koppen system as having an "Oceanic" climate, due to its cool, moderate temperatures and high rainfall. In many respects the climate here is similar to that in southern New England, and the combination of climate and rocky soils lead to numerous similarities in the natural vegetation.

Original vegetation was probably Appalachian oak forest at lower elevations, with northern hardwood forest of sugar maple, yellow birch, American beech, and hemlock, including Carolina hemlock (Tsuga caroliniana), at highest elevations. The plants here include many species that are normally only found farther north.

The region is mostly forested today, however, the forests are mostly second-growth forests, with old growth mostly limited to sites with steep slopes or other reasons for being commercially unviable. Although a large portion of this region consists of protected public lands, there is still some logging in public lands. Even in protected areas, global warming is threatening many species, pushing them to higher elevations as the climate warms, causing many local populations to become reduced or eliminated.

Within the Blue Ridge, this region shares irregular borders with many different regions, including the Southern Metasedimentary Mountains, the Broad Basins, which are interspersed throughout the Blue Ridge, the High Mountains encompassing the highest peaks, and the Southern Sedimentary Ridges. To the southeast, this region borders the Eastern Blue Ridge Foothills, and past that, the Northern Inner Piedmont over most of its length, and the Southern Inner Piedmont at the southern end.

This photo, taken from the Green Knob Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, shows the typical landscape of the Southern Crystalline Ridges and Mountains of the Blue Ridge mountains, with rugged, forested mountains with well-dissected flanks. Crop of a photo © Ron Cogswell, CC BY 2.0, Source.


1. Woods, A.J, Omernik, J.M., Brown, D.D. "Level III and IV Ecoregions of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia", U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Corvallis, OR (1999) Web.

2. Griffith, G.E.; Omernik, J.M.; and Azevedo, S.H. "Ecoregions of Tennessee (Poster)", U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA (1998) Web.