The Physical Geography of California

In California there are massive varieties of different landscapes. Within its 163,000 square miles these geographical features and landforms, that have been shaped by plate tectonics and the climate to produce the physical environments that are present today. The area is divided into two separate regions, Southern California and Northern California. Between these two major regions is the California Central Valley. These 18,000 square miles contain the rich agricultural soils that originally attracted so many people to migrate to the state in the 19th century.

Northern Californian coastal forests

The Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems have provided the valley with its rich floodplains and they join to form the Sacramento San Joaquin River Delta in San Francisco Bay. This area produces more than half of the fruits, vegetables and nuts that are grown in the United States. The Coast Ranges to the west of the Central Valley are a range of mountains that spread for 400 miles with the highest point being Mount Linn at 8000 feet in height. They are divided between the Southern Ranges and the Northern Ranges.

Within the Northern Ranges lies the Northern Californian coastal forests which contain Coast-Douglas Fir and Coast-Redwoods. These forests are lush and are different to the drier woodland forests that are found inland and produce many Mediterranean species. The Southern Ranges are far drier than the Northern Ranges and contain the California chaparral and woodlands ecoregion. Within this area are found oak woodland and savanna grasslands and the area is dominated by Black-tailed deer roaming the lands. The Sierra Nevada mountain range lies to the East of the Central Valley running 400 miles from north to south. This has some of the highest land in the States with the highest point being Mount Whitney at 14,000 feet.

Lake Tahoe

Due to the height of the mountains that are many impressive glaciated features with ice having carved out huge areas of land including huge U-shaped Valleys. Lake Tahoe is located within the area and it is the second deepest fresh water lake in the United States. It is 22 miles long and its greatest width is 12 miles wide. Much of the area is protected as conservation areas although the region is a major attraction for tourists coming to California. The ski resorts are particularly popular as they take advantage of arctic conditions that have produce the glaciers that still remain today. In contrast to the cold of the Sierra Navada is Death Valley which is located to the east of the ranges. This desert lies in the rain shadow of a number of four mountain ranges so receives little rainfall. The mountain ranges also create an oven type effect of containing and keep all the heat in this enclosed space. Temperatures can rise to over 50 degrees centigrade. In 2001 the temperature at Furnace Creek rose to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on 154 consecutive days.

The whole region of California is under threat from seismic activity as a result of the San Andreas Fault Line running straight through the state from north to south. The most catastrophic earthquake was recorded in 1906 in San Francisco when 3000 people died. The fault marks the boundary between the Pacific and American tectonic plates moving alongside each other, and this movement continues to happen today. It is certain that in there will be future earthquakes and all buildings in California are constructed with extra precautions taken about the effects of seismic activity. California geography is fascinating. It has produced many wonderful landscapes and the land continues to evolve as time progresses