The Florida Keys is an archipelago of about 1700 islands in the southeast United States. They begin at the southeastern tip of the Florida peninsula, about 15 miles south of Miami, and extend in a gentle arc south-southwest and then westward to Key West, the westernmost of the inhabited islands, and on to the uninhabited Dry Tortugas. The islands lie along the Florida Straits, dividing the Atlantic Ocean to the east from the Gulf of Mexico to the west, and defining one edge of Florida Bay. At the nearest point, the southern tip of Key West is just 98 miles (157 km) from Cuba. The Florida Keys are between about 23.5 and 25.5 degrees North latitude, in the subtropics. The climate of the Keys however, is defined as tropical according to Köppen climate classification. More than 95 percent of the land area lies in Monroe County, but a small portion extends northeast into Miami-Dade County, primarily in the city of Islandia, Florida. The total land area is 355.6 km² (137.3 sq mi). As of the 2000 census the population was 79,535, with an average density of 223.66/km² (579.27/sq mi), although much of the population is concentrated in a few areas of much higher density, such as the city of Key West, which has 32% of the entire population of the Keys.

The city of Key West is the county seat of Monroe County, which consists of a section on the mainland which is almost entirely in Everglades National Park, and the Keys islands from Key Largo to the Dry Tortugas.
The Florida Keys are the exposed portions of an ancient coral reef, with very little sand. The northernmost island arising from the ancient reef formation is Elliott Key, in Biscayne National Park. North of Elliott Key are several small transitional keys, composed of sand built up around small areas of exposed ancient reef. Further north, Key Biscayne and places north are barrier islands, built up of sand.[1]

The Florida Keys have taken their present form as the result of the drastic changes in sea level ociated with recent glaciations or ice ages. Beginning some 130,000 years ago the Sangamon interglacial raised sea levels to approximately 25 feet (7.5 m.) above the current level. All of southern Florida was covered by a shallow sea. Several parallel lines of reef formed along the edge of the submerged Florida plateau, stretching south and then west from the present Miami area to what is now the Dry Tortugas. This reef formed the Key Largo limestone that is exposed on the surface from Soldier Key (midway between Key Biscayne and Elliott Key) to the southeast portion of Big Pine Key and the Newfound Harbor Keys. The types of coral that formed Key Largo limestone can be identified on the exposed surface of these keys.

Starting about 100,000 years ago the Wisconsin glaciation began lowering sea levels, exposing the coral reef and surrounding marine sediments. By 15,000 years ago the sea level had dropped to 300 to 350 feet below the contemporary level. The exposed reefs and sediments were heavily eroded. Acidic water, which can result from decaying vegetation, dissolves limestone. Some of the dissolved limestone redeposited as a denser cap rock, which can be seen as outcrops overlying the Key Largo and Miami limestones throughout the Keys. The limestone that eroded from the reef formed oolites in the shallow sea behind the reef, and together with the skeletal remains of bryozoans, formed the Miami limestone that is the current surface bedrock of the lower Florida peninsula and the lower keys from Big Pine Key to Key West. To the west of Key West the ancient reef is covered by recent calcareous sand.

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