Physiographic Regions: Definition, Features & Factors

Physiographic Regions: Definition, Features & Factors
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Physiographic regions are geographic areas that share distinct properties like landforms, rock type, and evolutionary history. This lesson will look at some of the ways these regions are classified and look at examples in the USA.

What Is a Physiographic Region?

When you look at a satellite image of the United States, you probably notice differences across the landscape. There are mountains, rivers, plains, rolling hills, and low-lying coastal lands. When scientists try to categorize regions based on their physical characteristics, we get the development of physiographic regions.

A physiographic region has a distinct type of landscape, landforms, rock type, and evolutionary history. If you then compare two different regions together, you'll see that they vary based on each of these categories.

Physiographic Regions in the USA

The first attempt to classify the United States into physiographic regions was published in a scientific journal back in 1917, and there have been many discussions and attempts at fine-tuning this method to find the best way to categorize land types.

At the broadest scale, the USA is split into 8 regions that vary in size.

broadest categories of USA

We have:

  • The Appalachian Highlands
  • The Atlantic Plain
  • The Interior Highlands
  • The Interior Plains
  • The Intermontane Plateaus
  • The Laurentian Uplands
  • The Pacific Mountain System
  • The Rocky Mountain System

This is a great first step at classification, but we can take this one step further and look at more detailed physiographic regions.

Currently, the USA can be split into 24 distinct physiographic regions (which are sometimes called physiographic provinces), and each of these can be sub-divided into more specific groups that are still related to the broad categorization we started with. Some maps show 25 categories because they include the continental shelf currently under water, but for the purposes of this lesson, we'll stick with 24.

physiographic regions of the USA

The 24 regions found within the contiguous USA are as follows:

  1. Adirondack
  2. Appalachian Plateaus
  3. Basin and Range
  4. Blue Ridge
  5. Cascade-Sierra Mountains
  6. Central Lowland
  7. Coastal Plain
  8. Colorado Plateaus
  9. Columbia Plateau
  10. Great Plains
  11. Interior Low Plateaus
  12. Lower Californian
  13. Middle Rocky Mountains
  14. New England
  15. Northern Rocky Mountains
  16. Ouachita
  17. Ozark Plateaus
  18. Pacific Border
  19. Piedmont
  20. Southern Rocky Mountains
  21. St. Lawrence Valley
  22. Superior Upland
  23. Valley and Ridge
  24. Wyoming Basin

This is pretty cool to look at, right? So how were these physiographic regions defined?

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