Geography of Maryland

Brief Overview

Maryland Geography

Maryland is often called "America in Miniature." Why do you think this is true?

The state of Maryland is on the east coast of the United States. It's global address is: latitude 39 degrees north, longitude 77 degrees west. There are beaches, mountains, plains, rivers and the gorgeous Chesapeake Bay for Marylanders to enjoy. The mountains in the western part of the state rise to more than 3000 feet above sea level while Eastern Shore Marylanders splash in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Here are some facts about Maryland:

Maryland is bordered by four other states in the USA. Can you name them? There are only eight other states in the USA that are smaller than Maryland.

Maryland has a very unusual shape. The northern boundary of Maryland was in dispute in 1763 and two astronomer- mathematicians were given the job of surveying the dividing line between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. This boundary line is straight. We call it the "Mason-Dixon Line" and a marker in Delmar is shown in the picture on the left. The other boudary line of Maryland is quite crooked and that's because it follows a river - the Potomac River.

In one place the width of the state is so narrow that a person could walk across it and not need to stop and rest. The distance across the state, between West Virginia and Pennsylvania is not much more than a mile. No other state has a width that is so narrow.

The Chesapeake Bay, America's largest estuary, was once the Susquehanna River until the Atlantic Ocean flooded it. This flooding, caused by melting glaciers, formed what Marylanders proudly call "The Bay." If you look at the map of Maryland you can see that the shoreline of the Bay is very irregular. Although the Bay is less than 200 miles long its coastline is nearly 3,600 miles long! Maryland has more navigable rivers than any other state.

Photos of the Chesapeake Bay

Calvert Cliffs is on the shoreline of the Bay and these cliffs which rise 100 feet above water reveal layers of rocks, fossils and soil. Why do you think this might help geologists study the formation of the Chesapeake Bay? Famous scientists from all over come to Calvert Cliffs to see the fossil beds.

The water of the Chesapeake Bay is brackish, that is, a mixture of fresh and salt water. The ocean brings in the salt water and the rivers are pouring in fresh water. The Bay is such a large estuary that the tides also enter the mouths of the rivers. This causes the waters to mix and become brackish. The part of Maryland near the Bay is called Tidewater Maryland.

Land Regions of Maryland

There are three land regions in Maryland:

  1. Piedmont Plateau
    Most rivers in Maryland can be navigated up to the point where there are waterfalls. An imaginary line connnecting the falls of each river would make the fall line.

    • begins at the fall line
    • between 100-500 feet about sea level
    • large rocks in some places
    • Baltimore began on the fall line where waterpower was provided by the falls
    • soil is not as sandy as in the coastal plain, contains some clay
    • greater range of temperature than on the plain

  2. Atlantic Coastal Plain
    • lowland with few hills
    • elevation is less than 100 feet
    • soil is light and sandy and good for farming
    • many rivers and creeks
    • divided in half by the Chesapeake Bay to form the Eastern Shore and the Western Shore
    • mild temperatures
    • marshes on the Eastern Shore
    • flat land on the Eastern Shore
  3. Appalachian
    • begins with the Catoctin Mountains near Frederick
    • smaller farms than other regions
    • lumbering is important
    • elevation more than 500 feet, highest point is 3,360 at Backbone Mountain
    • cooler climate in western Maryland

    The land east of the Chesapeake Bay is called Delmarva. Can you guess why?

    Maryland's Gift to the Nation

    President Washington was asked to set aside a 'Federal City' for the nation's capital when it was still only thirteen states. It was suggested that he look along the Potomac River since it would be a nice waterway for the city but would still be far enough away from the ocean in the event of an attack. Both Maryland and Virginia were asked to give a part of their land to the federal government. Virginia was not happy about this for various reasons so Congress gave most of the Virginia land back to Virginia. Washington, D.C. is completely on land that once was Maryland.

    Discussion questions for research:


    How does Maryland's geography compare to the land around your city? Are there any similarities? Are there any rivers near your city? Is your soil good for farming? Describe the temperature range in your area.


    Compare the geography of England to that of Maryland. Tell us about the famous river you are near.

    Leslie, Elizabeth and Megan:

    How is man changing the Chesapeake Bay? Talk to your parents, local fisherman, visit the library and call the Chesapeake Regional Information Service at 1-800-662-2747. Ask the CRIS to send you any free information about the Bay for students. We'll share the pamphlets with Olya and Michael. How can we help save the Bay?

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