Wheat field near Centreville on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, with flat terrain typical of the Atlantic Plain

The Atlantic Plain[1] is one of eight distinct physiographic regions of the United States. The Atlantic Plain of the United States includes portions of the coastal states of Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

The lands adjacent to the Atlantic coastline are made up of sandy beaches, marshlands, bays, and barrier islands. This major division consists of the continental shelf and coastal plain physiographic provinces. It is the flattest of the U.S. physiographic divisions and stretches over 2,200 miles (3,500 km) in length from Cape Cod to the Mexican border and southward an additional 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the Yucatán Peninsula. The central and southern Atlantic Coast is characterized by barrier and drowned valley coasts. The coastal Atlantic plain features nearly continuous barriers interrupted by inlets, large embayments with drowned river valleys, and extensive wetlands and marshes.[2] The Atlantic 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. The relief at the land-sea interface is so low that the boundary between them is often blurry and indistinct, especially along stretches of the Louisiana bayous and the Florida Everglades.

Coastal Plains

The Atlantic coastal plain covers parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island,[dubious ] New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida (Alabama is part of the Gulf Coastal Plain).[3][failed verification]

This province consists of the following physiographic sections: the Embayed, Sea Island, Floridian, East Gulf Coastal Plain, Mississippi Alluvial Plain, and the West Gulf Coastal Plain. The rocks consist for the most part of layers of sand and clay which are not yet hardened into sandstone and shale. The coastal Atlantic plain features nearly continuous barrier islands interrupted by inlets, large embayments with drowned river valleys, and extensive wetlands and marshes. The Atlantic plain slopes gently seaward from the inland highlands in a series of terraces. The surface is mainly flat, with a very great population. The increase in population affects the wildlife immensely.

It extends 2,200 miles (3,500 km) from the New York Bight[4][5] southward to a Georgia/Florida section of the Eastern Continental Divide, which demarcates the plain from the ACF River Basin in the Gulf Coastal Plain to the west. The province is bordered on the west by the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line and the Piedmont plateau, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean, and to the south by the Floridian province. The Outer Lands archipelagic region forms the insular northeasternmost extension of the Atlantic coastal plain.

The province's average elevation is less than 900 meters above sea level and extends some 50 to 100 kilometers inland from the ocean.[citation needed] The coastal plain is normally wet, including many rivers, marsh, and swampland.[citation needed] It is composed primarily of sedimentary rock and unlithified sediments and is primarily used for agriculture.[6] The Atlantic Coastal Plain includes the Carolina Sandhills region[7] as well as the Embayed and Sea Island physiographic provinces. The Atlantic Coastal Plain is sometimes subdivided into northern and southern regions, specifically the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic coastal plains.


The Atlantic Plain is generally gently dipping undeformed Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments, with the sedimentary wedge thickening toward the sea, reaching a maximum thickness of about 3 kilometers (10,000 ft) in the vicinity of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.[8]



Longleaf pine woodland savanna, typical of the region.

Despite being previously overlooked in research, the Atlantic Coastal Plain is now identified as a global biodiversity hotspot, with over 1500 endemic plant species, and ~70% habitat loss. This endemism is particularly high in the longleaf pine savannas and woodlands, along with the other herbaceous and fire dependent ecosystems of the ecoregion. Despite intermittent flooding, certain refugia have remained continuously terrestrial since at least the late Cretaceous (85-80mya), contributing to endemism. Generally speaking, despite the high diversity of soils, the soil is nutrient poor. This is primarily due to an abundance of well-drained soils, creating a primarily xeric character to the floral makeup of the Atlantic Plain.[9][10] However, waterlogged soils are also notable, with wetlands and hammocks being important ecological features.[11]

The Eastern woodlands are the original, predominant ecosystem of the Atlantic coastal plain. The Atlantic coastal plain upland longleaf pine woodland is an endemic plant community found in most of the Atlantic coastal plain, ranging from Virginia to northern Florida. These woodland savannas are reliant on sandy soils and are fire dependent, lest hardwoods start to dominate. Alongside longleaf pine, typically associated flora includes turkey oak and wiregrass. The Florida longleaf pine sandhill extends the longleaf pine forests into central Florida, with South Florida slash pine flatwoods, Florida sand pine scrub and Florida dry prairie stretching into southern Florida.[12][13][14][15][16] Longleaf pine woodlands also stretch further west, to eastern Texas. These consist of East Gulf and West Gulf longleaf pine flatwoods, bisected by the Mississippi Alluvial Plain.[13][14][17]

To the north, the Atlantic Coastal Plain also broaches into the mesic hardwood forests of the Middle Atlantic coastal forests, followed by the northern Atlantic coastal pine barrens.[18][19][20] The southernmost Atlantic Plain contains the only Neotropical ecoregion of the continental USA, being the Everglades and Florida mangroves.[21]


The following species are largely endemic to the region. Amphibian diversity is especially notable in the Atlantic Plain.[10]



The red-cockaded woodpecker was once a widespread, signature species across the Atlantic Plain.

Some of these species' ranges may extend into the longleaf pine woodlands and savannas of the Gulf Plain.[17][22]


  1. ^ "Physiographic divisions of the conterminous U. S." U.S. Geological Survey. Archived from the original on December 5, 2007. Retrieved December 6, 2007.
  2. ^ "Programmatic Environmental Assessment for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program" (PDF). U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency. Retrieved December 30, 2007.
  3. ^ "Generalized Landscape Regions of New York State" (PDF). Earth Science Reference Tables. NYSED. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 1, 2020. Retrieved November 12, 2012.
  4. ^ Stoffer, Phil; Messina, Paula. "The Atlantic Coastal Plain". Geology and Geography of New York Bight Beaches.
  5. ^ "South Atlantic Coastal Plain". Archived from the original on April 24, 2009.
  6. ^ Water table management in the eastern coastal plain Archived July 21, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Swezey, C.S., Fitzwater, B.A., Whittecar, G.R., Mahan, S.A., Garrity, C.P., Aleman Gonzalez, W.B., and Dobbs, K.M., 2016, The Carolina Sandhills: Quaternary eolian sand sheets and dunes along the updip margin of the Atlantic Coastal Plain province, southeastern United States: Quaternary Research, v. 86, p. 271-286; www.cambridge.org/core/journals/quaternary-research
  8. ^ Renner, J. L.; Vaught, Tracy L. (1979). "Geothermal Resources of the Eastern United States" (PDF). U.S. Department of Energy, Division of Geothermal Energy. doi:10.2172/6630154. Retrieved December 27, 2007. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ Noss, Reed F.; Platt, William J.; Sorrie, Bruce A.; Weakley, Alan S.; Means, D. Bruce; Costanza, Jennifer; Peet, Robert K. (February 2015). Richardson, David (ed.). "How global biodiversity hotspots may go unrecognized: lessons from the North American Coastal Plain". Diversity and Distributions. 21 (2): 236–244. doi:10.1111/ddi.12278. S2CID 84685018.
  10. ^ a b Klepzig, Kier; Shelfer, Richard; Choice, Zanethia (2014). "Outlook for coastal plain forests: a subregional report from the Southern Forest Futures Project". Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-GTR-196. Asheville, NC: USDA-Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 68 P. 196: 1–68. doi:10.2737/SRS-GTR-196.
  11. ^ "Mid-Atlantic Coastal Forests Eco-Region: Endangered Forests and Special Areas" (PDF). Natural Resources Defense Council.
  12. ^ Landers, J. Larry; Boyer, William D. (1999). "An old-growth definition for upland longleaf and south Florida slash pine forests, woodlands, and savannas". Gen. Tech. Rep. SRS-29. Asheville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southern Research Station. 20 P. 29. doi:10.2737/SRS-GTR-29. hdl:2027/uiug.30112048257486.
  13. ^ a b Palmquist, Kyle A.; Peet, Robert K.; Carr, Susan C. (2013). "Xeric Longleaf Pine Vegetation of the Atlantic and East Gulf Coast Coastal Plain: an Evaluation and Revision of Associations within the U.S. National Vegetation Classification" (PDF). U.S. National Vegetation Classification: 1–70.
  14. ^ a b Peet, Robert K.; Allard, Dorothy J. (1993). Hermann, Shannon M. (ed.). "Longleaf Pine Vegetation of the Southern Atlantic and Eastern Gulf Coast Regions: A Preliminary Classification*" (PDF). Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference (18): 45–81.
  15. ^ Carr, Susan C.; Robertson, Kevin M.; Peet, Robert K. (June 2010). "A Vegetation Classification of Fire-Dependent Pinelands of Florida". Castanea. 75 (2): 153–189. doi:10.2179/09-016.1. ISSN 0008-7475. S2CID 56015575.
  16. ^ "Sandhill" (PDF). FNAI - Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida. 2010 edition.
  17. ^ a b "East and West Gulf Coastal Plain: Open Pine/Savanna" (PDF). Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozarks Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
  18. ^ Phillips, Jonathan D. (1994). "Forgotten Hardwood Forests of the Coastal Plain". Geographical Review. 84 (2): 162–171. doi:10.2307/215328. ISSN 0016-7428. JSTOR 215328.
  19. ^ "North Atlantic Habitat Guide" (PDF). The Nature Conservancy.
  20. ^ Myers, Jennifer Moore; Communications, SRS Science. "Bottomland Hardwoods of the Mid-Atlantic". CompassLive. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  21. ^ "Ecoregions 2017 ©". ecoregions.appspot.com. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  22. ^ "North American Coastal Plain - Species | CEPF". www.cepf.net. Retrieved February 26, 2023.

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