The Carolina capes are the present stage in long sequences of capes which began at the Fall Zone because of a great coastal prominence, and were self-maintaining because a continuous series of capes resulted from the emergence of off-cape shoals. Even during the rise of sea level, relict capes were able to localize new ones, as in the case of the present Cape Fear.

These sequences or lines of capes became asymmetric drainage divides. Drainage areas of major extended-consequent streams where they cross the coastal plain are compartmented between such lines of relict capes. The main streams lie immediately northeast of the lines of capes. The significant tributaries rise on the southeast flank of the next line of capes to the northeast.

North of the cape zone the major extended-consequent streams were not controlled by such topographic barriers. They were repeatedly deflected down-drift and their mouths are far south of the places where they first enter the Coastal Plain at the Fall Zone. Chesapeake Bay (Susquehanna River estuary) is an example.

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