The earth is a fascinating place with all kinds of variation and geographical interest. Have you ever seen an unlabeled picture come up as a screensaver and been able to guess where it’s at based on the types of landforms in the picture?
The reason you could is that all over the world, wild and wondrous things have happened. These occurrences have created a series of landforms throughout Earth’s lifespan that make each many areas unique.
Need to know about the highest mountains in the world? Want to know what a mid-ocean ridge is and where they are at on the globe? You have come to the right place. In this article, we dig into the incredible face of our planet. You will learn about what landforms are and the wide variety of them arranged across the globe.
What is a Landform?
As defined by National Geographic, a landform is a “feature on the Earth’s surface that is part of the terrain.” The terrain of the land includes all of its topographic features. Whether a formation sticks out of the ground or sinks into it, it has topographic significance.
Have you ever looked out of your window or driven past the same countryside in your home town and thought there wasn’t anything special about it? After this article, you will want to think again.
Land is like a history book of the earth. When you know how to read it well, it tells you all kinds of stories about its past. Knowing how to read it takes time, just like any other language. When you learn, it opens your eyes to the significance and brilliance of all those formations around you.
There are four major types of landforms, although we added one more to the section below. There are four that are accepted throughout the scientific community. These include mountains, plateaus, hills, and plains. Everything else can fall into these broad and general categories.
There are hundreds of minor landform typologies. Some of them are well known, like valleys. Others you have probably never heard of since they only belong to particular geographic regions.
For example, an “uvala” is a type of elongated terrain and more extensive than most types of sinkholes. An uvala is only found in Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia.
Before we look at some of these lesser-known but just as interesting types of landforms, let’s dig deeper into the most significant landforms.
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1. Significant Types of Landforms
Mountains, hills, plateaus and plains are the four recognized significant types of landforms. They are known by almost everyone, whether you have an interest in geography or not. The reason for this is their commonality. You can find them all over the world in many different biomes.
There are plenty of minor landforms that you can find on, in, or nearby these five. However, these embody vast swaths of land.
Whether or not you need to know a lot about geography, it’s good to understand these five landforms. Let’s take a quick trip around the world to find examples of all of these landforms.
Mountains are easily recognized as a landform because of their size and range. Mountains are often people’s favorite kind of landform because of their stunning beauty, whether looking at them or down from them.
What classifies a mountain? Mountains have steep slopes that lead up to a summit, a landform we discuss later in the article. For most geologists, a mountain is any landform that rises 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more above the surrounding area.
There are other factors, like its slope and sea level height, that geologists also have to consider to classify a mountain. Those are the main factors before it starts to get much more scientific.
Mountains are not only found in ranges that reach the sky. You can also find them on the ocean floor. Some of the tallest mountains rise from the depths of the ocean.
These exist because of the way that mountains get formed. Tectonic plates are the leading players in the formation of mountains. The entire surface of the earth’s crust is tectonic plates. These plates are solid land that we all live on that slowly move over the asthenosphere. The asthenosphere is the lava that is underneath the land.
These plates move very slow. Even though it’s slow, they cause significant disturbances on the earth’s surface as they move. Sometimes they caused natural disasters, like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and flooding. Other times, they are barely noticeable.
The vast mountain ranges we have today formed millions of years ago. When tectonic plates pushed hard against each other, they shoved land upwards. They formed many of the significant mountain ranges we have today.
Not every single mountain formed this way, but many of them do stick to that formation story.
Examples of Mountains and Ranges Throughout the World
Let’s start with the ranges of mountains and then break out some of the well-known examples of mountains globally. The major mountain ranges we have today include:
- Rocky Mountains
- Appalachian Mountains
- Ural Mountains
- Sierra Nevada
- Atlas Mountains
As you become more familiar with mountain ranges, you will find yourself able to identify them in photos. Each mountain range occurred on its own and has different kinds of mountains and geological deposits.
Our following list includes the most famous or tallest mountain from each one of these ranges.
- Mount Everest (29,032’ / 8,848 m)
- Aconcagua (22,842’ / 6,962 m)
- Mount Elbert (14,429’ / 4,297 m)
- Mont Blanc (15,777’ / 4,808 m)
- Mount Mitchell (6,684’ / 2,037 m)
- Mount Narodnaya (6,217’ / 1,894 m)
- K2 (28,251’ / 8,611 m)
- Mount Whitney (14,505’ / 4,421 m)
- Toubkal (13,671’ / 4,167 m)
- Aneto (11,168’ / 3,405 m)
- Marmolada (10,968’ / 3,343 m)
There are other famous mountains throughout the world as well. These include examples like Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Fuji, Denali and the Matterhorn. The interesting thing about several of these is their standalone nature. Each of these rises out from low ground around it, barring the Matterhorn.
Another reason that mountains can be famous is their cultural significance. Mountains are often part of folklore in the surrounding region, and their snowy tops hold a lot of mystique for many of those living in their shadows.
In a way, hills are like tiny mountains. They share many of their characteristics with mountains. For example, hills have to have a higher elevation than the land around them. They can also form through tectonic activity. However, erosion is another player in the formation of hills more than mountains.
Hills are smaller than mountains and are also not as steep. Although the heights of some hills might be close to some small mountains, their gently sloping nature prevents them from being a mountain.
Areas that have rolling hills are pretty popular regions of the world. They are beautiful without being arduous. For example, parts of California are filled with gently rolling hills and are widely popular.
Some of the more famous hills in the world include:
- Chocolate Hills (Philippines)
- Ananthagiri Hills (India)
- Tuscany Hills (Italy)
- Glastonbury Tor (England)
Individual hills that are famous, like Glastonbury Tor, have more to do with their history than their geographical interest. The Tor was where Richard Whiting, or the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, was killed with two monks.
There are myths surrounding the hill and its terraced sides that date back to King Arthur and fascinating sections of Celtic mythology. Many of the historical remains on and in the hill remain unexplained to this day.
Plains are kind of the opposite of mountains and hills. They are flat expanses of land with very little topographical change. There are high and low plains, depending on how and where they are formed.
Plains might not seem as attractive as the variation found in hills and mountains. However, they are incredibly vast expanses that take up a large portion of the land above sea level. In total, plains cover over 19 million square miles of land.
There are many ways that plains can form. They might be there because of the erosion of hills or mountains. They could also be present because of a lava flow that dried and became fertile millennia later.
You can find examples of plains from large to small all over the world. Some of the more common examples of plains include:
- Great Plains (US) – 1,100,000 square miles
- Canterbury Plains (New Zealand) – 195 square miles
- Australian Plains – 2,966,200 square miles
- Serengeti Plains – 11,583 square miles
- European Plain – 2,000,000 square miles
- West Siberian Plain (Russia) – 1,200,000 square miles
- Indus Valley Plain (Pakistan) – 200,000 square miles
Plains are valuable because of the biodiversity they support. They are typically the home for large herds of animals such as buffalo, zebra, and wild horses, depending on where they are.
Plateaus used to be considered elevated plains but are now distinctive enough in their classification and number that they are different. A plateau is an elevated and primarily flat area of land with a border on at least one side with lower-lying land.
One of the theories on the formation of plateaus is that they are ancient mountains whose top levels and summits eroded down over time. They now span hundreds of thousands of miles across certain parts of the earth. Typical formations you might see on them include buttes, mesas, and canyons.
Some of the more extensive plateaus on the globe include:
- Mongolian Plateau – 1,000,000 square miles
- Colorado Plateau – 240,000 square miles
- Tibetan Plateau – 970,000 square miles
- Mexican Plateau – 232,488 square miles
There are many hundreds of smaller plateaus scattered throughout the world. Since they are often caused by erosion, their sizes change each year, some more noticeably than others.
2. Different Types of Minor Landforms
Beyond the four major landforms, there are hundreds of minor landforms spread across the globe. These were formed in all kinds of wondrous ways, whether through processes of wind and water erosion, ocean currents, or volcanic eruptions.
Some of them are in specific biomes, and some kinds have less to do with their shape and more to do with the kind of material they include.
We have produced a list of the major types of landforms underneath the category of “minor landform.” These are in the same group according to how they formed and the biome in which it happened.
From examples of desert landforms to volcanic landforms, we have got it all. Under each subheading, we include features of three to nine examples of landforms. These are the types we deemed most exciting or most necessary to know within the category. We also include a list of the other types of landforms that exist in the subcategory.
2.1 Aeolian or Desert Landforms
Deserts aren’t landforms so much as they are a biome. They do include plenty of unique landforms, though. Most of these have formed through the erosive force of the wind. That is where we get the name “Aeolian.” Aeolus is the Greek god of wind. An apt name for desert landforms if you ask us.
Featured Aeolian Landforms
2.1.1 Dry Lake
Another name for a dry lake is a “playa.” A dry lake is a depression or basin-like formation in the earth that had previously contained a standing surface body of water. When it becomes a dry lake, it means the water has all disappeared.
A dry lake forms because evaporation exceeds the process of recharge, either from ground reservoirs below or precipitation. It typically denotes a change in the biome around it. There could have been desertification of a lush area at one point in history.
Examples of a dry lake include Namak Lake in Iran and the Sailing stone in Racetrack Playa. There are quite a few sprinkled throughout the deserts of the world. If the bottom of the lake bed is covered in alkalines, you might also call it an “alkali flat.”
A yardang isn’t only a funny word; it’s a visually fascinating landform. Yardangs form because of excessive amounts of wind wearing away bedrock in one direction and consolidating materials on top of each other. It’s this dual-action process that forms towers of stone that lean in one direction.
A yardang doesn’t have a particular shape, but they are typically a pillar of rock that seems to lean and “point” in the direction the wind blows.
There are mega-yardangs in the central Sahara desert near the Tibesti Mountains. There are quite a few notable land formations throughout Arizona that are also yardangs.
A barchan or barkhan is a specific type of dune. They are again formed by the wind in a specific way to give them visual interest. Russian naturalist Alexander von Middendorf first used the term “barchan.” He was describing the dunes he found throughout Turkestan.
A barchan is a crescent-shaped dune. They appear to be convex from certain angles but are concave on the leeward side. They form when there isn’t as much loose sand on the surface, and the wind blows in a single direction until the sands stockpile. The sand ends up avalanching down the unstable slip face to form the crescent shape.
2.1.4 Other Types of Aeolian Landforms
- Desert Pavement
- Desert Varnish
2.2 Coastal Landforms
Most of us already know what coast is, the land found at the edge of the ocean. There are different kinds of coasts all over the world. They include white sand beaches, steep cliffsides, and rocky shorelines.
A coastal landform has a lot to do with the currents of the ocean. Certain materials get pushed up until the shoreline to form some of the landforms. The ocean water eats away at some shorelines, and wind erosion still plays a big part in them.
There is quite a bit of our coastline that we can credit to tectonic plate activity. Underwater volcanoes form some landforms. We have featured some of all different kinds below and included an extensive list of the rest underneath that.
Featured Coastal Landforms
Coastal arches, or sea arches, are formed when tall stone formations stick out from an elevated portion of the coastline. They are at least partially in the water, which means the ocean goes to work on it.
As the ocean waters bite away at the stone, portions that are weaker erode. Eventually, they can form a large arch in the rock, forming a channel through which the water passes.
These arches can be rather large and majestic. You have probably seen one of them on the screensavers we mentioned at the beginning. Some of the most incredible sea arches worldwide include the one at Kleftiko Beach, Great Pollet Arch, Hopewell Rocks, Honopu Arch, and Pigeon Rocks.
An archipelago is a fascinating coastal landform and a good one to know if you study geography. An archipelago is a group of islands that are close enough to all be considered one unit.
Archipelagos form when the ocean’s current transports sediment on top of a coral reef until it stacks up large enough to stack up out of the water. Many times, it takes the help of a tectonic movement to push the islands far enough above sea level to make them livable.
Some of the most famous archipelagos include the Florida Keys, the Indonesian Archipelago, the Maldives, the Bahamas, and the Azores. In other words, they are great places to vacation.
Some are in colder areas. Due to a lack of coral reefs in cold waters, these often form more like mountains pushed out of the water or sinking of the lower land. These include the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and the British Isles.
A beach is a narrow strip of land that separates a water body from inland regions. You will typically find beaches next to every body of water, even if only a couple of inches. There are beaches for rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Beaches are formed by water movement, slowly stripping the land of topsoil until it has a gentle slope. The current then deposits all kinds of materials. “Nice” beaches are often deposits of sand. Others will have pebbles and seashell fragments.
Most of the beaches that are considered the best in the world are close to the equator. These include Pigeon Point in Trinidad and Long Beach in Vietnam.
A cape is often a more prominent coastal landform, although it doesn’t have to be. It’s a high strip of land that extends out into a water body like a lake or ocean. Some capes connect to the main landmass in the region. Others are a part of an island that sticks away from the more massive island body.
A formation similar to a cape is a peninsula. One of the primary differences is that a peninsula makes up a large portion of a mainland unit. Florida is a peninsula since it’s so large and connected solidly to the larger body of the mainland United States. Cape Hatteras in North Carolina is smaller and a part of islands in contrast.
Most of us know the word fjord from Norwegian culture. Norway and Iceland do have a landscape full of them, but you can also find them in Canada and Russia.
A fjord is a narrow, deep, long inlet between the sea and high cliffs. A fjord forms when a glaciated valley becomes submerged. After the glacier carves its way into part of the coastline, the sea, ocean, or other water bodies fill in behind it.
Fjords are typically stunning. There are famous fjords in Patagonia, Chile, the Misty Fjords in Alaska, the Westfjords in Iceland, and the Sognefjord in Norway.
Islands are pieces of land surrounded by water. They can range from small blips with a couple of trees on top to massive pieces of land, like England and Ireland.
Islands form in all kinds of ways. They might have been coral reefs at one point pushed out of the water. There are also underwater volcanoes that form islands when they erupt, and the lava cools towards the surface.
Hawaii has a series of famous islands. There are also islands off Japan and Korea, and Indonesia is mostly islands for the most part.
An isthmus is a narrow strip of land that has water on either side of it. They connect two pieces of land that are typically much larger, although they can also connect small islands.
An isthmus forms by a portion of land either sinking or rising from the ocean.
The two most famous isthmuses include the Isthmus of Panama and the Isthmus of Suez. The Isthmus of Panama serves to connect North and South America. The Isthmus of Suez connects Africa to Asia. Both of these are of vital importance geographically and historically.
2.2.8 Sea Cliff
In contrast to a beach, you can also have sea cliffs running along a coastline. Sea cliffs are steep faces of soil and rock formed and eroded by waves. They crash against the cliffside until the lower layers fall away and a notch forms.
Inevitably, the rest of the ground becomes unstable. It will end up collapsing, and then the ocean has access to all new layers of the cliff. Sea cliffs continue to retreat until they reach harder rock or eventually reach the lower ground.
You want to be very careful at the end of a sea cliff for this reason. Although you might be standing far above the ocean, that doesn’t mean you are safe from it. Examples of famous sea cliffs include the cliffs of Moher in Ireland, the Kalaupapa Cliffs in Hawaii and Preikestolen in Norway.
2.2.9 Other Types of Coastal Landforms
- Barrier bar/barrier island
- Beach cusps
- Beach ridge
- Cuspate foreland
- Dune system
- Marine terrace
- Sea cave
- Suge channel
- Wave cut platform
3.1 Oceanic Landforms
Beyond the incredible landforms found at the edge of the ocean, there are plenty that reside in the ocean itself. The ocean is an effector of enormous change on the planet. Approximately 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, with the oceans holding about 96.5% of this water.
Ocean currents are powerful and highly repetitive acts. They serve to hack away at and build up all kinds of landforms. Water always runs to the oceans as well, causing all kinds of landforms to form so water can get there. Other factors in oceanic landforms include tectonic movement, like always, and volcanic activity.
Featured Oceanic Landforms
3.1.1 Coral Reef
A coral reef is an underwater structure composed of millions of skeletons of colonial marine invertebrates. Each piece of coral is a polyp. Polyps live on the calcium carbonate concentration in the exoskeletons of the generations that came before them.
A coral reef is one of the few landforms made up of colonies of living creatures. They are the building blocks of so many other kinds of landforms as well. As reefs form and die, so do islands, beaches, and sand bars.
The most famous coral reef is the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia. There are also beautiful coral reefs in the waters of the Northern Hawaiin Islands.
A lagoon is a smaller body of water that has been separated from the large water body by a sandbank or a coral reef. They can be both freshwater and saltwater, depending on what their mother water body was.
Lagoons are formed in dozens of different ways by a variety of natural phenomena. Some of the most famous ones include the Nanuya Levu in Fiji and the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Both of these are trendy tourist destinations for their beauty.
3.1.3 Mid-ocean Ridge
A mid-ocean ridge is a ridge system that rises from the ocean basin at random. They are typically formed by seismically active tectonic plates causing an incredible push up from the ocean’s depths or a division between two plates, causing a deep canyon.
The most famous mid-ocean ridge is the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This ridge because of the spreading action of the two tectonic plates that meet in the Atlantic Ocean. They spread further apart each year. Thus, this rift is known as a “spreading center.”
3.1.4 Oceanic Trench
An oceanic trench is a deep, steep depression that occurs in the deepest part of the ocean. They are enormous and relatively unexplored. Many theorize there could be all kinds of unknown species that live at these depths of the ocean.
Oceanic trenches form when one tectonic plate pushes into and underneath another plate. One side rises while the other pushes down lower and lower. They eventually form volcanoes all along the seafloor and vast oceanic mountain ranges.
Some oceanic trenches include the Tonga Trench, the South Sandwich Trench, the Mariana, and the Philippine Trench.
3.1.5 River Delta
Let’s cast our gaze outside of the depths of the ocean for a minute. Water that falls on land and into lakes and rivers always moves back towards the ocean. Sometimes, as it gets closer to these large bodies of water, it forms a river delta.
A river delta is a landform that is a deposition of sediment. The river carries this sediment and leaves it at the mouth of an area of slower-moving or even stagnant water. It forms a sort of triangular shape with all kinds of rivulets running through it.
Famous examples of a river delta include the Amazon Delta, the Euphrates Delta, the Godavari Delta, and the Indus River Delta. Although you can’t tell much on elevation with the delta, from above, they are incredible and intricate landforms.
3.1.6 Other Types of Oceanic Landforms
- Abyssal fan
- Abyssal plain
- Continental shelf
- Oceanic basin
- Oceanic plateau
- Submarine canyon
4.1 Cryogenic Landforms
The word “cryogenic” is often used concerning something that is very, very cold. In a cryogenic landform, it’s a mass of land or topographical development in a very cold biome. You will find most of these only located in the Antarctic and the Arctic.
Most cryogenic landforms are formed because of the weather and the cycles of deep cold and melt these areas experience.
Featured Cryogenic Landforms
A lithalsa is a frost-induced piece of raised land that develops in permafrost areas that have mineral-rich soil. They occur where a perennial ice lens develops in the soil.
A lithalsa is often almost a perfect circle in the landscape. There are not many of them, and they change around due to the weather and soil content. That means there aren’t any that you can go and find since they are a weather-dependent landform.
4.1.2 Nivation hollow
Nivation hollows typically occur on the side of a mountain. They are shallow depressions in the mountain slope that is either permanently or intermittently filled with snow in a bank or a patch.
Nivation occurs because of erosion that happens under and to the side of a snowbank. Typically, nivation happens because of alternate freezing and thawing. Nivation hollows are not very permanent features and can typically be found on tall, snowy mountain sides.
A pingo is a mound of soil in a dome shape covered by a core of ice. It typically happens in permafrost areas. The most remarkable examples of pingos are in Central Asia. Here, there are pingos at the highest elevations in the world. The Tibetan Plateau contains pingos at 13,000’ (4,000 m) above sea level.
4.1.4 Rock glacier
There are two examples of a rock glacier. One is a periglacial glacier, and another is a glacial rock glacier. They are both primarily made of masses of rock, snow, mud, and ice. They end up slowly moving down a mountain because of gravity. A rock glacier might also be a mass of rock with interstitial ice.
Rock glaciers usually form when ice and snow melt over a talus slope. They end up melting into the rocks and freeze deep below the surface. They result in a massive amount of rocks all frozen together.
You can find examples of rock glaciers in Utah, the Timpanogos Glacier. There are quite a few others, but they are so large that they can be hard to identify as separate from a mountain face. Fun fact: there have been some potentially identified on Mars by the Mars Orbiter spacecraft.
4.1.5 Other Types of Cryogenic Landforms
- Cryoplanation terrace
- Earth hummocks
- Permafrost plateau
- Solifluction lobes and sheets
5.1 Impact Landforms
Speaking of Mars and all things extraterrestrial, impact landforms form via extraterrestrial impact. When part of an asteroid or meteor makes contact with the earth’s surface, it has quite a significant effect.
Featured Impact Landforms
5.1.1 Complex crater
A complex crater is a type of impact crater that is quite large with multiple uplifted centers. When the impact first happened, its force and the underlying layers of the earth’s crust weren’t able to take on all of the force of the impact in one area. The result was the caving in and rising of several places throughout the site of impact.
5.1.2 Impact crater lake
Impact crater lakes are much more common than many of the other varieties of impact landforms. Asteroids first created them, but then the processes on the earth’s surface took care of the rest.
Typically, when an asteroid hits the earth, it’s so hot that it quickly burns up and disappears or breaks apart. The initial impact typically forms a circle since wherever it hit will be covered extensively in the form of the blow. At the edges of the impact area, the land will form ridges forming the crater.
Examples of crater lakes include the Clearwater Lakes in Quebec, Canada, Lake Acraman in Australia, and the Kaali Meteorite Crater Field in Estonia.
5.1.3 Other Types of Impact Landforms
- Central peak
- Cratered landscape
- Impact crater
- Simple crater
6.1 Karst Landforms
A Karst landform might also be known as a type of landscape. It occurs when there is a field of dissolving bedrock close to the top layer of soil. This dissolving layer of rock eventually forms landforms like sinkholes, caves, and sinking streams. Soluble rocks are typical to a Karst, such as marble, limestone and gypsum.
Featured Karst Landforms
A cenote is a type of sinkhole typical of a Karst landscape. It’s a natural pit that results because of the collapse of limestone. It exposes groundwater below it. There might be a large cavern underneath the collapsed rock, or it might only be a small indention.
Some examples of famous cenotes occur in Mexico. These include the Dos Ojos in the Yucatan Peninsula and the Ik-Kil Cenote in Chichen Itza. Cenotes provide stable environments for species that need controlled temperatures and water movement.
Swimming in a cenote is a touristy activity, but it isn’t recommended. For one, since a cenote is a hole in the topsoil leading into a large cavern, it can be tough to get in and out of. What’s more, you will destroy the biology of the place if you swim with any creams or excess oils on your skin since the plants and animals require a pure and balanced environment.
A sinkhole is a depression in the ground caused by the collapse of minerals and rocks underneath them. They are caused by water on the surface eroding it, and dissolution of the rock from the groundwater below it.
In certain areas where sinkholes are common, they can be pretty dangerous. If they haven’t collapsed yet, there is no way you can know you are walking over one until you fall inside. Many people have died or gotten seriously injured by falling into sinkholes.
Famous examples of sinkholes worldwide include the Blue Hole in Dahab, Egypt, the Boesmansgat in South Africa, and Lake Kashiba in Zambia. Florida’s lagoons and forests are often littered with sinkholes that are only just forming and require caution.
A turlough is a unique landform to Ireland, with one exemption located in England. These landforms are low-lying areas on top of limestone that get repeatedly flooded during wet weather. They well up with groundwater and form a temporary lake or pond.
Turloughs are part of Celtic mythology. They were pretty mysterious for many years since they would randomly appear and disappear. Sometimes the areas are quite large. Imagine one day walking over a hill to a glittering lake and the next coming back to find only a valley among the hills.
6.1.4 Other Types of Karst Landforms
- Karst fenster
7.1 Mountain and Glacial Landforms
Other than the larger mountains and glaciers, there are many landforms that happen because of their movement and formation. Beyond the big picture of the mountain, you will find all kinds of unique landforms, sometimes around every bend when you dig into it.
Featured Mountain and Glacial Landforms
A canyon is a deep gorge between two larger rock formations. Normally, there is a river flowing through it, which also plays a part in how canyons are formed.
A canyon is sometimes formed, at least in part, by moving glaciers cutting between the stone. Rivers come into it by eroding the canyons down even further.
An excellent example of a notable canyon is the Grand Canyon. There are many smaller ones scattered in all kinds of mountainous regions of the world or those that once had glaciers moving through them.
A cirque is another landmass formed by glacial erosion. It takes the shape of an amphitheater with a valley formed in between a semi-circle of high mountain sloops. Sometimes it’s gentle slopes and not extremely obvious, and other times these are enormous and incredibly steep natural amphitheaters.
There are large and small cirques in almost every mountain range in the world. If you have to hike in a partial circle to get from one summit to the next with a steep valley below you, then you are likely hiking around the ridge of a cirque.
A hoodoo is a column of weathered rock. Many times, hoodoos are formed by a combination of rainwater running over them and wind rushing between them.
The word “hoodoo” comes from Hausa, a language originally from West Africa that means “to arouse resentment”. Because of the rising nature of the hoodoo and the eerie way it does it, it looked to settlers like the land was rising for retribution. Hoodoos can also be called “fairy chimneys.”
Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most well-known places on earth for its hoodoo formations. An entire valley is filled with them. There are also many hoodoos scattered throughout Mexico and Arizona as well as in certain parts of Africa.
A mesa comes from the Spanish word for “table.” It describes a mountain or a hill with a distinct flat top. On top, they are quite wide with steep sides leading up to their increased elevation, similar to a table.
The name “mesa” was given to these landforms by Spanish explorers entering the American Southwest, where many of these landforms are. Throughout Arizona and New Mexico, they are scattered all over the parched landscape.
One good example of a mesa is Mount Conner or those landforms found throughout Canyonlands National Park.
A summit of a mountain or elevated place is the highest point in elevation. Every mountain has a summit. Some of them are more gradual while others are distinct and offer a goal for mountain climbers.
It is difficult for us to give you examples of famous summits since any famous mountain is likely to have a famous summit.
A valley is a low area that dips below mountains or hills. They often have streams flowing through them. All the water from the higher elevations will flow down into the valley to its lowest point.
Valleys are formed as mountains are formed since not every piece of land can get pushed up to the heights. To create balance, some of it sinks lower while other parts go up. Many times, valleys quietly stand by while you look at the beauty of the mountains ahead.
There are some valleys that are breathtakingly beautiful and deserve a second look. Some of these include the Great Appalachian Valley, Death Valley, Yosemite Valley and Imperial Valley.
7.1.7 Other Types of Mountain and Glacial Landforms
- Dirt cone
- Hanging valley
- Mountain pass
- Rock shelter
8.1 Volcanic Landforms
Volcanic landforms are those formed from a volcanic eruption. These can happen underwater or above land in a brilliant display of lava and ash. Typically, these devastating occurrences result in all kinds of destruction, but they also give rise to new landforms and sometimes entirely new islands where people live.
Featured Volcanic Landforms
A caldera is a crater that forms when land collapses after a volcanic eruption. It might even be the mouth of the volcano that collapses.
A great example of a caldera is Crater Lake in Oregon. When the stratovolcano, Mt. Mazama, exploded quite violently, it changed the entire landscape. The volcano’s mouth collapsed to form the caldera that is now a picturesque lake in the middle of a beloved National Park.
Geysers are incredible landforms that can be pretty active. They are eruptions of water that come out of a deep hole in the ground. At certain intervals, water and steam will shoot through the hole into the air.
Sometimes, the eruption is only a couple of inches of bubbling water. Other times, the geyser will shoot the water dozens of feet up into the air to the amazement of onlookers. Most of the time, these larger and more consistent geysers are tourist attractions.
Some examples of geysers that are well worth a visit include the Beehive Geyser in Wyoming, Old Faithful in Yosemite National Park, the Bolshoi Geyser in Russia, and the Diamond Geyser in New Zealand. Wyoming is littered with geysers because of the underlying volcanic activity that still goes on today.
8.1.3 Lava plain
A lava plain, or a lava field, is a large area nearly flat and filled with lava flows. It’s almost entirely highly fluid basalt lava. They can go on for tens and up to hundreds of miles.
Lava plains typically exist in an area with active volcanic activity near the earth’s crust but without as much pressure building up to cause it to explode. There are a surprising number of lava plains around the world. For example, there is the Boring Lava Field in the US and the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland, mostly a wasteland of lava fields.
Speaking of volcanic landforms wouldn’t be complete without talking about the volcano itself. There are all kinds of volcanoes and many more that are dormant mountains instead of the belching beasts they once were.
There are submarine volcanoes that regularly explode without us knowing much about it. They might slowly build up islands as they continue to expel lava. Some supervolcanoes can wreak havoc over a massive swath of the world.
These supervolcanoes could cover half the world in ash and a wide swath of land around them in molten lava. Yellowstone is a supervolcano that has been getting gradually closer to explosion for years.
There are currently six known active supervolcanoes in the world. Some explosions in the past from supervolcanoes have devastated entire populations of people. An example of this is Mount Vesuvius’s explosion in AD 79.
8.1.5 Other Types of Volcanic Landforms
- Complex volcano
- Crater lake
- Lava dome
- Lava spine
- Mud volcano
- Pit crater
- Rootless cone
- Sand volcano
- Shield volcano
- Subglacial mound
- Submarine volcano
- Volcanic arc
- Volcanic dam
- Volcanic field
- Volcanic island
- Volcanic plateau
- Volcanic plug
Interesting Facts about Landforms
1|Technically, water bodies are considered landforms.
The word “land” in landform would give most people the idea that it has to be on land to be a landform. That isn’t always true. Technically, oceans, rivers, and lakes all qualify as landforms. They might be water bodies, but the land shapes them.
2|Landforms play an influential role in weather conditions.
A landform isn’t just there to look pretty or interesting. They play a prominent role in the way that our climate is in each part of the world. Mountain ranges and water bodies affect the most change. Mountain ranges act as walls against winds and storms that travel around the planet. That is why it’s normal to see lush greenery on one side of a range and a desert on the other.
3|Landforms are only temporary.
Although a landform might have been around and looked the same for thousands of years, they are all only temporary. Millenia ago, our world looked very different. As volcanoes explode and tectonic plates continue to shift, our world will likely continue to change. Some day, the mountains might even fall back into the earth.