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- The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America.
- The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period, and once reached elevations similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before they were eroded.
- The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east-west travel as it forms a series of alternating ridgelines and valleys oriented in opposition to any road running east-west.
- The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines the Appalachian Highlands physiographic division as consisting of thirteen provinces: the Atlantic Coast Uplands, Eastern Newfoundland Atlantic, Maritime Acadian Highlands, Maritime Plain, Notre Dame and Mégantic Mountains, Western Newfoundland Mountains, Piedmont, Blue Ridge, Valley and Ridge, Saint Lawrence Valley, Appalachian Plateaus, New England province, and the Adirondack provinces.
- A common variant definition does not include the Adirondack Mountains, which geologically belong to the Grenville Orogeny and have a different geological history from the rest of the Appalachians.
- The highest of the group is Mount Mitchell in North Carolina at 6,684 feet (2,037 m), which is the highest point in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
- However, the term is often used more restrictively to refer to regions in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains, usually including areas in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and North Carolina, as well as sometimes extending as far south as northern Georgia and western South Carolina, as far north as Pennsylvania and southern Ohio.
- The central section comprises, excluding various minor groups, the Valley Ridges between the Allegheny Front of the Allegheny Plateau and the Great Appalachian Valley, the New York – New Jersey Highlands, the Taconic Mountains in New York, and a large portion of the Blue Ridge.
- The southern section consists of the prolongation of the Blue Ridge, which is divided into the Western Blue Ridge (or Unaka) Front and the Eastern Blue Ridge Front, the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians, and the Cumberland Plateau.
- This includes the Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York, the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and the Allegheny Plateau of southwestern New York, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia.
- The Appalachian belt includes, with the ranges enumerated above, the plateaus sloping southward to the Atlantic Ocean in New England, and south-eastward to the border of the coastal plain through the central and southern Atlantic states; and on the north-west, the Allegheny and Cumberland plateaus declining toward the Great Lakes and the interior plains.
- Chief summits in the southern section of the Blue Ridge are located along two main crests— the Western or Unaka Front along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and the Eastern Front in North Carolina— or one of several “cross ridges” between the two main crests.
- Because North America and Africa were connected, the Appalachians formed part of the same mountain chain as the Little Atlas in Morocco.
- In the central Appalachians it is usually confined above 3,000 ft (900 m) asl, except for a few cold valleys in which it reaches lower elevations.
- Another species is the Black Spruce (Picea mariana), which extends farthest north of any conifer in North America, is found at high elevations in the northern Appalachians, and in bogs as far south as Pennsylvania.
- Fraser Fir is confined to the highest parts of the southern Appalachian Mountains, where along with Red Spruce it forms a fragile ecosystem known as the Southern Appalachian spruce-fir forest.
- The most diverse and richest forests are the Mixed Mesophytic or medium moisture types, which are largely confined to rich, moist montane soils of the southern and central Appalachians, particularly in the Cumberland and Allegheny Mountains, but also thrive in the southern Appalachian coves.
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