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Frequently Asked Questions

Dividing Line

How much of West Virginia was covered by glaciers during the "Ice Age?"

While no part of the State was covered by glacial ice during the stages of glacial advance in the Wisconsinan stage, the climate in West Virginia, however, was several degrees colder than it is today. Peri-glacial (in front of the glacier) effects can be seen in Cranesville Swamp in Preston County and Cranberry Glades in Pocahontas County, which have been bogs or lakes at least since the coldest period of the last glacial epoch, and in patterned-ground features (i.e., the effects of ground frost) at Dolly Sods and the Canaan Mountain/Valley area in Tucker County and Spruce Knob in Pendleton County.

Quaternary Glaciation in the NE U.S.
Quaternary Glaciation in the northeastern U.S. (adapted from Blakely, 2012)

Some stream drainage patterns that existed in the State prior to the "Ice Age" were altered by the presence of glaciers to the north. The Teays River in the southern part of the State was the major drainage outlet, following the trend of the present New and Kanawha rivers to near Nitro and then westward toward Huntington in the broad valley now occupied by Interstate 64.

The path of the Ohio River as we now know it reflects a substantial change. Along the border of the northern panhandle, north from Moundsville, there is evidence that an ancestral river flowed north. There is widespread belief among geologists that the glaciations of North America during the past two million years were responsible in part for creating the Ohio River drainage system that exists today. A major abandoned channel is today downtown Weirton. The development of the steel industry took advantage of this abandoned channel above flood level as "flat land" on which to build the steel mills.

In the northern part of the State, ancient "Glacial" Lake Monongahela was formed by outwash, or possibly ice, damming the north-flowing Monongahela River and its tributaries just above the tip of the northern panhandle. This lake covered all land below 1,100 feet in elevation in parts of northern West Virginia as far south as Weston, and in southwestern Pennsylvania. We can attribute the sandy and silty soils from Fairmont upstream and the varved clays in the Morgantown area to the presence of this lake.

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Page last revised June 20, 2017.
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