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March 4, 2013

Flowing north

Eastern Continental Divide plays key role in direction of state’s rivers

FAIRMONT — In addition to coal and mountains, the state of West Virginia is known for its many rivers that flow north.

Kathleen Tyner, the advocacy and conservation program manager at the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, said there are several rivers and streams that flow north in the state. Those rivers include the New River, the Monongahela River, the Tygart Valley River, the South Branch River and the Bluestone River.

“These rivers also have a lot of other tributaries and streams that flow into them,” Tyner said. “Many of those tributaries also flow north into them.”

Most rivers flow south. So why do these rivers flow north? Michael Hohn, a geologist with the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, said a lot of rivers in West Virginia flow north because they are located on the west side of the Eastern Continental Divide (ECD).

“The ECD divides rivers that flow to the Atlantic Ocean or to the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.

The ECD runs from the center of the northern Pennsylvania border down through the eastern border of Preston County straight to the southwest border of West Virginia. It then weaves through Virginia, Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

“West Virginia largely lies west to the ECD except for the Eastern Panhandle,” Hohn said.

Hohn said many of the state’s rivers flow north due to when and how the ECD was formed.

“Part of the collision of continents was creating uplift,” Hohn said. “Sheets of rock (were thrust) up over the other sheets of rock and resulted as the west part of the state being much higher than the east.”

 

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