The ecological setting of the Rice Center offers significant opportunities for researchers and students to delve into the subject of human and environmental interaction. The center has about two miles of frontage on the lower James River, which at this location is freshwater or only very slightly saline and tidal, with water levels fluctuating up to three feet during an average tidal cycle.
Elevations on the property range from 45 feet above sea level along the ridge tops to three feet above sea level at the river’s edge. Soils on the site are fluvial silt loams that are moderately well drained but with high clay content. A riverine geologic formation, known as the Shirley Formation, underlies the site and is characterized by deposits of sand, gravel, silt, clay and peat.
The forested portions of the Rice Center are typical for Virginia’s coastal plain. These include upland hardwood forest dominated by white oak, a loblolly pine forest with a mixed hardwood understory and bottomland hardwood forest.