The following is from "Soil Survey of Norfolk and Suffolk Counties, Massachusetts (Peragallo, 1989)"

Physiography, Relief, and Drainage of Norfolk and Suffolk Counties Massachusetts

Norfolk and Suffolk Counties lie within the Lower New England Physiographic Province. Two physiographic subregions characterize the area: the Coastal Hills and the Boston Basin. The Coastal Hills, or the Eastern Plateau, cover most of the survey area. The northeastern part of the survey area is in the Boston Basin.

The Coastal Hills are gently rolling and have low relief with very subtle breaks between major landforms. Most of these hills are less than 400 feet above sea level. The exceptions are the Blue Hills, which reach an elevation of 635 feet on Great Blue Hill, the highest point in the survey area.

The topography of the Coastal Hills is diverse. Where rock outcrops are numerous, the irregular configuration of the bedrock determines the shape of valleys. On drumlins, the deposits themselves determine the shape of landforms.

The Boston Basin ranges in elevation from sea level to about 150 feet. It is characterized by a relatively smooth plain with about 100 round and oval hills, called drumlins, that rise sharply above the plain. It also includes several islands and peninsulas in Boston, Dorchester, and Ouincy Bays. Many of the islands have steep cliffs where the ocean has eroded the sides of hills.

The Boston Basin is highly urbanized and has a long history of land reclamation. There, large areas of tidal marshes, bays, and estuaries have been artificially filled. The extent and shape of the original coastline have been greatly obscured (14, 30). Note: Historic maps of Boston can be found at: ).

Major streams are fed by numerous smaller ones that have an irregular, unsystematic pattern, a common feature of glaciated land. Also, isolated ponds and swamps are numerous.

Two major streams and several minor ones drain the survey area. The Charles River is in the north and western part of the survey area, and the Neponset River is in the central part. The rivers meander slowly through broad valleys and empty directly into Boston Harbor and Dorchester Bay. The extreme eastern edge of Norfolk County is drained by the Weymouth Fore and Back Rivers, which flow into Quincy Bay. A narrow strip along the southern edge of Norfolk County is drained by tributaries to the Taunton River. The southwest corner of Norfolk County is drained by tributaries to the Blackstone River, which flows south to Narragansett Bay. All the principal streams reaching the sea have estuaries into which the tide penetrates for several miles. Generally, drainage is northeasterly.


(14) Kaye, Clifford A. 1976. The geology and early history of the Boston area of Massachusetts, a Bicentennial approach. U.S. Geol. Surv. Spec. Rep. 1476, 57 pp., illus.

(30) Whitehill, W.M. 1975. Boston, a topographical history. 2d ed. Belknap Press of Harvard Univ., 299 pp., illus.

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