Photograph of Natural Bridge, a natural arch formed in Ordovician dolomite by erosion.

Virginia Earth Science Quick Facts

Page snapshot: Virginia State Geologic MapFossil; Rock; Mineral; GemHighest and Lowest Elevations; Places to Visit; and Additional Resources.

Image above: Natural Bridge, Virginia. The arch of the bridge is made up of Ordovician-aged dolomite. Photo by Elizabeth J. Hermsen.

Geologic Map of Virginia


Geologic map of Virginia with physiographic regions identified.

Geologic map of Virginia showing maximum ages of mappable units. Image by Jonathan R. Hendricks for the [email protected] project developed using QGIS and USGS data (public domain) from Fenneman and Johnson (1946) and Horton et al. (2017).

Virginia State Fossil: Chesapecten jeffersonius

The state fossil of Virginia is Chesapecten jeffersonius, an extinct species of fossil scallop. Scallops are bivalve mollusk (learn more about bivalves here). Fossils of Chesapecten jeffersonius have been found in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, and Florida; learn more about this species here).


Interactive 3D model of Chesapecten jeffersonius. Model by Callan Bentley (Sketchfab; Attribution-NonCommercial 40 International license).


Image shows photographs of the outer and inner surfaces of Chesapecten jeffersonius.

Chesapecten jeffersonius from the Plio-Pleistocene (formation unknown) of Sarasota County, Florida (UF 31888). Image from the Neogene Atlas of Ancient Life (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license).


This species was named for Thomas Jefferson by Say in 1824. It has a special place in the history of paleontology because it was the first American fossil to be scientifically illustrated: an engraving of it (see below) was published in 1687 in Volume 3 of Historiae Conchyliorum by Martin Lister.


Illustration showing Martin Lister's illustration of the fossil scallop shell Chesapecten jeffersonius.

Martin Lister's 1687 illustration of Chesapecten jeffersonius. Image from reproduction in Ward and Blackwelder (1975) (USGS Professional Paper 861; public domain).

Virginia State Rock: Nelsonite

Nelsonite is a type of igneous rock that is rich in the minerals ilmenite and apatite. Titanium (used in paints and metal manufacturing) and calcium phosphate (used in agriculture) can be extracted from these minerals, making nelsonite an economically important type of rock. It was once an important economic resource in Virginia over a century ago, but is no longer mined. Because of its historical importance in Virginia, Nelsonite became recognized as the official state rock on July 1, 2016, following a campaign that began in a Piedmont Virginia Community College geology class. It is named for its type locality in Nelson, Virginia. Learn more here.

Photograph of a sample of Nelsonite, the state rock of Virginia.

Nelsonite, the state rock of Virginia. This Precambrian-aged sample is from Nelson County, Virginia, which is the type locality. Photograph by James St. John (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).

Virginia State Mineral: None

Virginia does not have a state mineral. What do you think it should be? Answer in the comments.

Virginia State Gem: None

Virginia does not have a state gem. What do you think it should be? Answer in the comments.

Virginia's Highest and Lowest Elevations


Topographic map of Virginia.

Topographic map of Virginia; greens indicate lower elevation, browns higher elevation. Topographic data derived from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM GL3) Global 90m (SRTM_GL3) (Farr, T. G., and M. Kobrick, 2000, Shuttle Radar Topography Mission produces a wealth of data. Eos Trans. AGU, 81:583-583.). Image created by Jonathan R. Hendricks for the [email protected] project.


Highest Elevation: Mt. Rogers

Mt. Rogers, located in Jefferson National Forest on Virginia's border with North Carolina, is the state's highest point, with an elevation of 1746 meters (5729 feet). The mountain is named for William Barton Rogers, Virginia's first State Geologist who also went on to found the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Photograph of Mt. Rogers, Virginia.

Mount Rogers, the highest point in Virginia (5729 ft), as viewed from the summit of Pine Mountain, Grayson County, Virginia. Photograph by "Famartin" (Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license; image cropped and resized from original).


Lowest Elevation: Atlantic Shore

Virginia's lowest points are along the coast where the Atlantic Ocean touches the shore, for example at Virginia Beach.

Photograph of people on the beach at Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photograph by Lindsay Bernsen (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; image cropped and resized).

Places to Visit


Virginia Museum of Natural History

Martinsville, Virginia.


Visit website

Natural Bridge State Park

Natural Bridge, Virginia.


Visit website
Photograph of Natural Bridge, a natural arch formed in Ordovician dolomite by erosion.

Natural Bridge, Virginia. The arch of the bridge is made up of Ordovician-aged dolomite. Photo by Elizabeth J. Hermsen.


Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach, Virginia.


Visit website
Photograph of people on the beach at Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Virginia Beach, Virginia. Photograph by Lindsay Bernsen (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license; image cropped and resized).


Shenandoah National Park

Virginia


Visit website
Image

Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park. Photograph by Andrew Parlette (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license).


Jefferson National Forest

Virginia


Visit website
Image

Waterfall in Jefferson National Forest near Cave Mountain Lake, Virginia. Photograph by "bobglennan" (Flickr; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license).

Additional resources


Learn more about the Earth science of Virginia and the surrounding region on [email protected]


Explore
Simple map of the southeastern United States showing the boundaries of the Inland Basin, Coastal Plain, and Blue Ridge and Piedmont regions.

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