British Columbia: Physiographic Regions

Submitted by The Catt-Trax2 Team on Mon, 2007/01/15 - 3:59pm.

Report prepared by Laura Seaton and Puru Shrestha, students in BCIT's Fish, Wildlife and Recreation program.

British Columbia is the most physiographically diverse and beautiful province of Canada. From the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains you encounter a series of mountain ranges, plateaus, plains, and river basins. It rises from ocean level to 4,663 m, extends 11° latitude, 25° longitude, and covers an area of 948,600 km2. British Columbia is the product of plate tectonics, volcanoes, and glacial activity dating back millions of years. Outstanding tourist attractions include Whistler Mountain, voted the finest ski resort in North America, the Fraser River, considered the finest salmon-bearing river in the world, and the Rocky Mountains. The province was named after the Columbia Mountain and Columbia River, which lie in the province's south-west corner.

The existing land mass of B.C. is divided into five major physiographic regions according to a relatively recent and concise classification developed by Valentine et al. (1978). These include the Coast Mountain and Islands, the Interior Plain, the Columbia Mountains and Southern Rockies, the Northern and Central Plateaus and Mountains, and the Great Plains. British Columbia's mountains were formed by tectonic and volcanic activity while the others were formed by glacial activity. The classification of the natural physiographic regions involves erosion, deposition, bedrock response to erosion, and orogenic history. The physiographic regions of B.C. consist of four parallel mountain ranges arranged in ascending order from youngest to oldest, from west to east, and extending along the north-south axis. These mountain ranges are crisscrossed and drained by several rivers, notably the Fraser River.

Notable landmarks of the physiographic regions are the Cassiar-Omineca and Skeena mountains to the north, the Cascade and Columbia mountains to the south, the Insular and Coastal mountains to the west, and the Rocky Mountains to the east along the Alberta border. The province is geologically active, with a prevalence of intrusive igneous rocks in the Coast Mountains, mixed igneous and metamorphic rocks in the Columbia Mountains, and sedimentary rocks in the Rocky Mountain. There is a remarkable change in natural biodiversity from the humid, temperate rainforests around Vancouver, to the dry, desert vegetation of the Okanagan plains. British Columbia's topography, range of climates, and biodiversity attract millions of people to the province every year.

Related Links


Cannings R. and S. Cannings. 1996. British Columbia: A Natural History. Revised and enlarged. Greystone Books, Vancouver. p. 341.

Holland, S.S. 1976. Landforms of British Columbia. BC Department of Mines and Petroleum Products. Bulletin no. 48. p. 138.

McGillivray 2000. Geography of British Columbia: People and Landscapes in Transition. UBC Press, Vancouver.

Pojar J. & D.Meidinger. "British Columbia: The Environmental Settings." In: Ecosystems of British Columbia. BC (D. Meidinger and J. Pojar, eds.) B.C. Ministry of Forests. pp. 39 - 68.

Valentine, K.W.G., P.N. Sprout, T.E. Baker and L.M. Lavkulich. 1978. "The Soil Landscapes of British Columbia" B.C. Ministry. Environment, Resources Annal. Br. Victoria, B.C.

Wood, D. 1996. "Earthquake Coast" in Beautiful British Columbia. Vol.38 (1). Spring 1996. pp. 6 - 13.