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American Coastal Plain

  • Type: Physiographic Province

The Coastal Plain province, the flattest province, stretches over 3,540 km (2,200 mi) from Cape Cod to the Mexican border. The plain slopes gently seaward from the inland highlands in a series of terraces. This gentle slope continues far into the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, forming the continental shelf.

This region was formed during the breakup of the supercontinent Pangea in the early Mesozoic Era. From about 280-230 million years ago, (Late Paleozoic Era until the Late Triassic) the continent we now know as North America was connected with Africa, South America, and Europe.

As Pangea broke apart, rifting began as magma welled up through the weakness in the crust and created a volcanic rift zone. The rift between the spreading continents gradually grew to form a new ocean basin, the Atlantic. The rift zone known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge continues to provide the raw volcanic materials for the still expanding ocean basin. As the edge of North America moved away from the hot rift zone, it began to cool and subside beneath the new Atlantic Ocean. This once-active divergent plate boundary became the passive, trailing edge of westward moving North America. In plate tectonic terms, the Coastal Plain is a classic example of a passive continental margin. - US NPS



Y/M/D Person Association Description Composition Food Event
Y/M/D Person Association Description Composition Food Event
-15000/00/00 Vast ice sheets which covered much of North America, northern Europe and Asia, reach their maximum between 31,000 and 16,000 BP. Islands from Long Island to Nantucket, Massachusetts begin to form from glacial til near the end of the Wisconsin Glaciation. Global Warming

Geography »


The wide Coastal Plain belt of Late Cretaceous to Holocene deposits, extends from New Jersey to Texas. These sedimentary rocks, deposited mostly in a marine environment, were later uplifted and now tilt seaward; part of them form the broad, submerged Atlantic Continental Shelf. Coastal Plain deposits overlap the older, more distorted, Paleozoic and Precambrian rocks immediately to the north and west. - USGS

Physiographic Region Physiographic Province

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