New York has an area of 141,299 sq km (54,556 sq mi), including 4,908 sq km (1,895 sq mi) of inland water, 2,541 sq km (981 sq mi) of coastal water, and 10,329 sq km (3,988 sq mi) of that portion of the Great Lakes over which it has jurisdiction. Among the states it ranks 27th in size. The greatest distance within the state, exclusive of the islands, is 480 km (300 mi) from north to south, while from east to west it measures 510 km (315 mi). The average elevation is 300 m (1,000 ft). The principal islands belonging to the state are Manhattan Island, which forms the core of New York City; Staten Island, also a borough of New York City; and Long Island, which extends 190 km (118 mi) east from the southern tip of the state. On its western end, Long Island contains two more boroughs of New York City, Brooklyn and Queens.
New York’s roughly triangular area encloses eight different natural regions, or physiographic provinces, of the United States. These provinces are: the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a subdivision of the Coastal Plain; the New England Upland province, the Piedmont Plateau, the Ridge and Valley province, the Appalachian Plateaus, the Adirondack province, and the St. Lawrence Valley province, all subdivisions of the Appalachian Region; and the Central Lowland, a sub-division of the Interior Plains. The Coastal Plain of New York is part of a long, low coastal band that stretches from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Mexico. In New York State it is seen chiefly in Long Island and Staten Island.
These islands belong to the embayed section of the plain that is indented with many bays and estuaries because of the partial submergence of the land. Both islands were built up by a glacier, which, as it melted and retreated, left deposits called moraine.
Long Island received two separate deposits of moraine, running almost its entire length. Over most of Long Island the two deposits are virtually indistinguishable from each other. The eastern tip of Long Island, however, resembles a fishtail on the map, because at this point the two moraines are separated by water. Parts of the island are almost pure sand, supporting only scrub pines and oaks.
The New England Upland province is composed of moderately rough, rolling land with smoothly rounded hilltops. The bedrock is very old metamorphic rock, although some valleys are underlain with limestone. New York City is the point where the New England province meets the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Manhattan belongs to the Seaboard Lowland section of the New England province, and the strength of the bedrock there has permitted the construction of the city’s numerous skyscrapers. A prong of the Seaboard Lowland crosses the Hudson River, forming the Hudson Highlands near West Point. A well-known feature of this highland area is Storm King, a peak 413 m (1,355 ft) above sea level.
The Taconic section of the New England province, being mainly a mountainous section, is higher than the Seaboard Lowland. The Taconic section is seen in Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as in New York State, where it is represented by a thin strip of highlands to the east of the Hudson River called the Taconic Range. Only the northern tip of the Piedmont Plateau, called the northern Piedmont lowland, extends into New York State, mainly in Rockland County. Although basically a lowland area, one of the distinctive features there is the Palisades, the rocky cliffs that rise abruptly from the Hudson’s western shore. They were formed by molten basalt lava that was pushed up through the earth’s crust to form a tall rocky wall extending for some distance along the New Jersey-New York shore.
The Ridge and Valley province, which is more extensive in Pennsylvania and the Southern states, is confined to a relatively narrow valley in New York. This area, the northern part of which is called the Hudson Valley section, forms the Hudson River corridor. The valley is underlain by soft limestone, but much of the surface materials are sands, clays, and loams deposited as a result of glacial action. The general appearance of the valley is rural, and only in the southern part of this region is there any evidence of the folded mountainous terrain that is so characteristic of the Ridge and Valley province elsewhere.
The Appalachian Plateaus is a large natural region lying west of the Hudson lowlands and south of the Mohawk River valley and the Lake Ontario-Lake Erie plains. The plateau is underlain with nearly horizontal rock strata, and all of it was covered by a glacier as recently as 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. Ice and the force of rivers have dissected or cut into the bedrock, giving the whole region a rugged, hilly aspect. The plateau is highest in the eastern part of the state, where it forms the Catskill Mountains. The northeastern side of the Catskills near Albany is marked by a series of steep limestone escarpments called The Helderbergs. The average elevation of the hills in the Catskill region is 900 m (3,000 ft), but westward elevations are generally lower.
Slide Mountain, in the Catskills, reaches an elevation of 1,281 m (4,204 ft). The local relief in both the Catskills and the western portion of the plateau amounts to 150 m (500 ft) or more from the hilltops to the bottom of rivers that have cut wide valleys.
The section of the Appalachian Plateaus south of the Ontario Lake Plain and west of the Catskills is sometimes called the glaciated Allegheny Plateau. This area has elevations of from 370 to 610 m (1,200 to 2,000 ft), although the land is much lower around the Finger Lakes, in the north of the section. Glaciers carved these long narrow lakes from the soft limestones and shales that prevail in the area. The Finger Lakes are edged by steep valley walls over which tributary streams have created some spectacular waterfalls. Near the southern end of Cayuga Lake is the highest continuous waterfall east of the Rocky Mountains, Taughannock Falls, which, at 66 m (215 ft), is even higher than Niagara Falls.
Another distinct region of the Appalachian Plateaus is the Mohawk section, encompassing the Mohawk River valley. It separates the rest of the Appalachian Plateaus from the Adirondack Mountains to the north. The Mohawk River valley extends eastward from Rome to the Hudson River valley, permitting easy passage between the Hudson River and Lake Ontario. The Black River valley, north of Utica, forms a northwestern continuation of the Mohawk section. Both valleys are important dairy regions developed on excellent lands for pasture and growing hay. The Adirondack province consists of a large highland area occupying 26,000 sq km (10,000 sq mi) in the northeastern quarter of the state.
The region is domelike in shape, with the higher elevations toward the east. The western Adirondack province is more a rugged hill region and not truly mountainous. Geologically, this area is related to the Laurentian Upland, or Canadian Shield, which lies north of the St. Lawrence River, for it is composed of the same very old igneous rocks, principally granite and anorthosite in the high peaks section. The Adirondacks contain many of the higher peaks of the eastern United States, including Mount Marcy, at 1,629 m (5,344 ft), the highest point in the state. This region is heavily forested, and its geologic structure has created wild and rugged scenery, with many waterfalls and spectacular vistas.
The Adirondack Mountains descend to the St. Lawrence River valley on the north and are bordered on the east by the lowlands around Lake Champlain. The two lowlands are connected by the Valley of the Richelieu River. This area is known as the St. Lawrence Valley province. The St. Lawrence River outlines the northwestern boundary of the state where it passes across the granitic rock of the Laurentian Upland. The Frontenac axis, the same geologic rock structure that connects the Canadian Shield and the Adirondacks, is seen as the Thousand Islands, which lie in the St. Lawrence River where it leaves Lake Ontario.
South of Lake Ontario and east of Lake Erie is a single connected plain extending inland for about 8 km (about 5 mi) to more than 60 km (40 mi). It is called the Eastern Lake section of the Central Lowland. Along most of the Lake Erie shore the plain is narrow, but it widens as it approaches Buffalo. An interesting feature is the large number of drumlins between Syracuse and Rochester. Drumlins are elongated hills or ridges composed of glacial debris. This drumlin formation is one of the best known in the United States. For the visitor, however, Niagara Falls is the region’s most distinctive feature. "New York" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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