The word “terrain” derives from the Latin word “terra,” which means “earth.” Terrain is a term used to describe the layout of the landscape, and it can also be referred to as topography or relief. Geographers are recognized for analyzing the different unique and distinct terrain features found worldwide; hence, this term is what we tend to commonly use for describing distinctive land areas and features.
When you’re talking about the landscape, terrain is a term that refers to the way it looks or is structured. During wartime, “hostile terrain” is a phrase used to refer to a place with many hills, vast expanses of sand, or impassable rainforests.
The identification of environments best suitable for mankind and its actions hinges on the examination of terrain. Farming, commerce, transit, travel, manufacturing, and many more sectors are among them. Altitude, inclination, dirt, and other geographical aspects can all be used to describe terrain.
15 Common Types of Terrain and Infographic
A plateau is a level, high tract of land significantly above the surrounding terrain. This rise generally occurs on at least one side. Plateaus cover 1/3 of the earth’s surface and can be found on all continents.
The two main categories of plateaus are dissected plateaus and volcanic plateaus. The upward migration of the planet’s crust results in the formation of a dissected plateau. The ongoing clash of plate tectonics causes the uplifting. In one example, the Colorado Plateau (located in the Western region of America) has been increasing at a rate of about .01 inches (0.00025 m) every year for millennia.
These massive slabs of rock can be found throughout the globe, even in the seas. They typically have precipitous, sloped sides with jagged or curved ridges, as well as a high point known as a summit or peak.
A mountain, according to most geologists, is a landform that stands at a minimum of 1,000 feet (304.8 m) above its surroundings. A mountainous region is a grouping of mountains that are near in proximity to one another. Peaks are produced by tectonic processes, eroding, or volcanic activity, all of which operate on periods of thousands of years and longer.
Mountain ranges are gradually flattened once mountain development stops, due to erosion and other types of land wastage. Weathering effects exerted by both glaciers and rivers can play a role in flattening mountain ranges.
A plain is a level portion of land with slight variation in elevation and is mostly devoid of trees. Plains can be found as lowlands in basins or at the foot of mountains, coastal areas, mesas, or highlands.
However, a plain can also be defined as a flat area of land surrounded by a continuous or intermittent ring of hills, high slopes, or cliffs in a variety of settings. When a geographical location has multiple plains, a pass (also called a “gap”) may be used to connect them. Plains within the coast rise gradually from sea level before they are met with higher elevations.
A valley is a lengthy, low region that runs through hills or mountains and usually has a river or creek flowing from one end of it to another. The majority of valleys are generated by rivers eroding the landmass over a long duration.
Glacial ice weathering is responsible for the formation of several valleys. In arctic settings, these glaciers persist in valleys. Such glacially produced valleys were perhaps constructed or expanded throughout ice ages closer to the equatorial regions and elevations but are currently ice-free and populated by streams with flowing water.
Valleys in the arid areas could be completely dry. Glacial valleys come in a variety of shapes and sizes. These valleys have been carved out by a glacier, some of which still exist today. Glacial troughs are another name for such valleys. They feature a cross-section that is U-shaped and are common formations in mountainous places where glaciation has happened or is still occurring. Yosemite Valley is a noteworthy example.
A canyon is a deep gorge formed by erosion and the abrasive activity of a river across several geological timeframes. Rivers have a strong inclination to slash through subsurface materials, ultimately eroding layers of rock as deposits wash downwards. A riverbed will eventually achieve a standard height, which is identical to the water body through which it discharges into.
Whenever the river’s water source and river mouth are at dramatically different altitudes, wind erosion and weathering will build canyons, especially in areas wherein softer rock strata are interspersed with more rigid, more durable geological strata.
The breakdown of permeable rocks like limestones, gypsums, and dolomites creates karst terrain. It’s known for its cavities and sinkholes, as well as subsurface watersheds. Given appropriate circumstances, it has even been observed for rocks less susceptible to weathering, such as quartzite.
With hardly any streams or major bodies of water, underground draining may reduce the amount of water on the surface. Nevertheless, in areas in which the disintegrated bedrock is coated (often with debris) or constrained by durable sedimentary layers, distinguishing karst characteristics might be only visible at subterranean depths while being completely absent above the surface.
Paleokarst (hidden karst in the sedimentary gradient) research is essential when dealing with oil and gas reservoirs since carbonate rock hosts up to half of the planet’s petroleum resources, and this carbonate source is primarily located in permeable karst networks.
A cirque is a glacially eroded valley that looks like an arena. Corrie and cwm are two nicknames for this natural landscape, originating from Scottish and Welsh origins. A cirque often formed as a result of river erosion.
A glacial cirque’s curved form is exposed on the downward side, while the scooped portion is usually precipitous. The other sides are formed by cliff-like gradients along which snow and glaciated material merge and coalesce.
Because it is the intricate converging point of combined ice flows from numerous sources and their associated debris loads, the cirque’s bottom tends to become bowl-shaped. As a result, it is subjected to increased eroding stresses and is frequently deepened to even greater degrees.
Foothills (also known as piedmont) are progressive altitude rises at the foot of a mountainous region, a steeper hill range, or a highland region. They are a transform boundary amid low-relief plains and the nearby geographically higher hills, highlands, and mountains.
Foothills are usually believed to be a transitional topographic form that combines characteristics of a low-elevation, flat landscape with characteristics of mountainous terrain, but lacking in the important or dramatic areas of either. Foothills can be thought of as being an intermediary between flat landscapes and mountainous terrain.
Playas, or dry lake beds, are basins or dips that once held a large liquid body of water that evaporated due to evaporative activities that outpaced replenishment. An alkali flat is formed when the bottom of an empty lake is coated with sediments of alkaline chemicals.
A salt flat occurs when the bottom of a dry lakebed has been blanketed in salt.
Whenever rainwater enters a dry dip in the terrain, it forms a pool or reservoir. The dip will likely turn dry again if the overall yearly rate of evaporation surpasses the total annual intake, forming a dry lake. Salts that were neutralized in the water remain on the ground once the water evaporates, slowly accumulating over time.
A dry lake is characterized by a flat clay bed covered with accrued salts. Buffeting compounds such as borax, sodium carbonate, and other salts are concentrated in these minerals.
A dune is a land area formed by the movement of sand by air or rain. It’s usually shaped like a hill, slope, or mound. A dune network or dune system is a region containing dunes. A dune field is a vast dune complex, whereas sand seas (also called “ergs”) are wide, flat plains blanketed in air-swept sands or dunes containing minimal flora.
Dunes come in a variety of sizes, but usually contain a larger up-flow face wherein sand is forced up the dune and a smaller slide face upon the leeward side. Dune slacks are depressions or dips between two dunes.
11. Mima Mounds
Mima mounds are short, flat, and domelike organic mounds comprised of unstratified, frequently gravel sediments. The mounds range in size from three to more than fifty meters in diameter, in elevation from thirty centimeters to more than two meters, and in density from few to more than fifty mounds per hectare, generating prominent natural formations at times.
Mima mounds may be found at the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, located in the state of Washington. “Mima” is a Native American given name that translates as “a little further along” or “downstream.”
The formation of Mima mounds has been attributed to various factors, including tunneling by pocket gophers, a buildup of dust sediments around foliage, or seismic ground tremors by large earthquakes. However, no such earthquakes have been observed to cause Mima mounds.
A butte is a diminutive hill with tapered sidewalls and a low, generally flat summit; buttes are lesser landforms than mesas, plateaus, and tablelands. Buttes are found in the western United States and Canada.
The word butte is derived from a French word that means knoll; it is commonly used in the United States, particularly in the Southwest, where the word mesa (meaning “table” in Spanish) is used to refer to the more prominent landform in question.
Buttes are frequently recognized as markers in both plains and mountainous terrain due to their distinctive formations. The general rule used by geographers to distinguish between the two landforms is that a mesa has a top that is broader than its height, and a butte is distinguished by having a top that is thinner than its elevation.
A mesa is a solitary, flat-topped ridge surrounded by high cliffs and rises sharply above a surrounding plain. Mesas are found across the world. Mesas are often composed of horizontally arranged soft rock layers covered by a more durable layer or layers of hard rock, such as silicate minerals covered by sandstones or a combination of these two types of stones.
It serves as a caprock, forming the flat summit of a mesa, and it is highly resistant to erosion. The caprock can be composed of rock layers such as sandstone and limestone, fragmented lava flows, or a heavily worn duricrust, depending on the type of rock used.
In contrast to the term plateau, which refers to landforms formed by horizontal layers of bedrock, such as the Tibetan Plateau, the term mesa refers to formations formed by flat-lying strata only. On the other hand, Tablelands are flat-topped plateaus that are specifically designated as such.
A marsh is a wetland in which herbaceous plant species predominate over woody plant species. Wetland areas around lakes and streams are frequently found around the borders of these bodies of water, where they serve as a transitional zone between the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Grass, rushes, and reeds are commonly found in the foreground. If woody plants are found, they are often low-growing shrubs, referred to as carrs in some circles.
Among various wetland forms, marshes are distinguished by their lack of tree cover, as opposed to swamps characterized by their abundance of trees and mires, which are wetlands that have accumulated acidic peat deposits.
A glacier is a large mass of thick ice moving quickly under pressure. A glacier occurs when the buildup of snow surpasses the sublimation of water over a long period, frequently decades or centuries. When glaciers are subjected to strains caused by their weight, they gently distort and move, resulting in cracks, crevices, and other unique characteristics.
They also damage rock and debris off their substrate, resulting in landforms like fjords, cirques, and moraines. Together with ice sheets, glacial ice is the Earth’s most significant freshwater storage, accounting for approximately 69 percent of the total worldwide freshwater supply.
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A Few More Interesting Facts About Each Terrain Type
The North Island Volcanic Plateau in New Zealand is a notable example of this phenomenon. Mount Ruapehu, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Tongariro are the three active volcanoes situated upon this particular plateau.
The contour of a plateau can be influenced by weathering. When atop a plateau, soft rock diminishes quickly. As a result, many plateaus are crowned with what is known as “caprock”, a solid, long-lasting surface. The plateau’s caprock shields the soils beneath it from experiencing erosion.
These cooler temperatures have a significant impact on mountainous communities, as different altitudes have distinct flora and fauna. Mountains are utilized less for farming but more for crude resource extraction, such as quarrying and forestry, as well as for leisurely pursuits, such as rock climbing and snowboarding.
Mount Everest, located within the Himalayas, is the tallest mountain on the planet, with an elevation of 29,035 feet (8849.86 m) above sea level.
Plains can be created by magma, material accumulation by water, frost, or breeze. Grasslands, savannahs, and tundras are among some of the biomes found on plains. Certain types of forests and deserts might well be called plains in some cases.
Plains are significant for farming in many locations since the soils are often deposited in locations with high nutrient density. Additionally, the uniformity of altitudes allows for easier agricultural cultivation
Dry valleys can also occur in limestone bedrock settings where draining occurs beneath instead of upon the surface. Valleys found in both rivers and mountains are among two of the most witnessed types of valleys.
The nature of the bedrock upon where the river-water runs, the altitudinal variation among its start and end, and even the temperature all impacts the formation of a river valley. Normally, as the water-flow increases downstream, so too will the gradient decline. The water will efficiently degrade its bed by corrasion in the higher part of the valley, resulting in a valley with a sharp and distinctive V-shape.
Once again, a water stream of some kind usually carves down such spaces amid mountains. Provo Canyon in Utah is an example of a mountain-type canyon. Box canyons are found among mountains and possess one opening solely on a single side. Slot canyons are incredibly slender gorges with smooth walls.
Underwater (or submarine) canyons are sharp-edged valleys in the seabed that generally run parallel to the continental slope. These canyons are hypothesized to be generated by waves, storms, and landslides, dissimilar land canyons.
Fissures and limestone residues may appear on external surface layers. Sinkholes and cenotes are examples of standard-size surface structures. Karst towers can form in matured karst ecosystems in which most of the bedrock is eroded. Complex subterranean waterways, aquifers, and huge cavern and tunnel networks can emerge underneath the ground.
Deterioration along limestone coasts, particularly within tropical regions, results in karst terrain, which is largely the result of bioactivity or weathering at or around sea level. Forests in karst environments are usually distinctive. This is because karst topography is hard for people to navigate, so such areas are generally unaffected. The soil has a high pH, which promotes the proliferation of unique palm trees, orchids, mangroves, and more vegetative species.
Such steps are positioned one over the other as well as behind the other at various elevations in the landscape and are created by identical geologic mechanisms. However, the geomorphologic configurations vary according to the classification of rock and sedimentological conditions.
The bottom step frequently lacks the sheer headwalls that cirques are known for. The Zastler Loch, located underneath the peak of the Feldberg Mountain in Germany, is a notable instance of a cirque stairway.
The majority of the Mountains’ foothills are made up of crumpled and distorted Cretaceous/Mesozoic sediments that were distorted by geographic forces throughout the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods.
At one point over 10,000 years ago, these foothills were heavily blanketed by ice sheets during the last big ice age, whereas other places, particularly in southern Alberta’s Porcupine Hills, stayed without ice.
The majority of dried lakes are minor. Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the biggest global salt flat, covering 4,085 square miles (1,058,010 hectares).
Even during rainfall, most dry lakes, particularly around rainy periods, hold shallow water. If the liquid is thin and the wind moves it over the dry riverbed, a very solid and flat surface can form. Denser water layering may result in a “fractured” texture. Dunes can form in some cases.
The Racetrack Playa is home to a natural condition known as “sailing stones,” which gently glide over the ground, leaving straight “racing track” impressions without interaction from another living creature.
Dunes can also be seen near seashores, along rivers in dryland environments, and places where weakly connected sandstone bedrock deteriorates to provide an overabundance of sand.
The impact of the flow of water on sand or gravel banks of streams, bays, and the seafloor can result in shallow marine dunes. Sand-sized granules make up dunes, which might be quartz, carbonate, ice particles, limestone, or other minerals.
On the surface, similar occurrences can be found on all hemispheres; however, the postulated causal elements are not found in all of the investigated areas. Furthermore, it is not evident that all such mounds are structurally or functionally equivalent; for instance, the fairy rings of Southern Africa seem to be less mound-like and present in a number of climatic and biological settings that are distinct from those of Mima mounds.
Also asserted is that the perhaps unique heuweltjies of South Africa are descended from a distinct source from any of the two origins mentioned above.
The sole distinction between a mesa and a butte is their size. According to most researchers, a butte is taller than it is broad, but a mesa is a considerably more extensive, somewhat lower-elevated structure.
Buttes are formed when waterways slice through a mesa or plateau over time. Caprock, the solid upper surface of buttes, resists erosion and deposition. Consequently, the structures are nearly as tall as the plateau or mesa that formed them.
The Grand Mesa, located in the United States state of Colorado, is the Earth’s biggest mesa, with an expanse of around 500 square miles and a length of 40 miles. The phrase “mesa,” meaning table, was coined by Spanish colonists in the Southwestern united states, where a large portion of mesas may be found since the summits of mesas resemble table surfaces.
Because of their high biological output, marshes account for 0.1 percent of the world’s total stored terrestrial carbon. Furthermore, they have a disproportionately large impact on the climate stability of coastal communities and waterways, which are subjected to high tides and other water changes due to severe weather.
Although some marshes are predicted to migrate uphill due to sea-level rise and accompanying erosion, the majority of natural marshlands will be endangered.
They will then discharge it afterward in the manner of melting ice as sunnier summer months induce glacial melting. Glacial melting results in a source of water that is particularly vital for plant growth and animal life during times while other sources of water are in short supply. Nevertheless, in elevated and Antarctic regions, the periodic difference in temperature is frequently insufficient to cause meltwater to be released from the ground.
Glacial mass variables are considered the most responsive environmental factors because they are influenced by lengthy climatic changes such as rainfall, moderate heat, and cloud distribution.
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Common Tools Used to Measure and Analyze Terrains
Digital Elevation Model
A digital elevation model (DEM) is a three-dimensional computerized graphical portrayal of topographic information used to show terrain on a planet, natural satellite, or asteroid. A discrete worldwide grid is referred to as a “global DEM.” DEMs are perhaps the most popular foundation for digitally created elevation mappings and are frequently utilized in geographic information systems.
Although a digital surface model (DSM) can be beneficial for terrain analysis, metropolis model construction, and a graphical representation, a digital terrain model (DTM) is usually needed for flooding or draining simulation, territory studies, geological application, as well as in the planetary sciences.
Relief mapping, often known as terrain cartography, is the display of the form of the Surface of the planet on a diagram utilizing numerous methods that have been devised. Relief, or terrain, is an important feature of geography, and depicting it is a major challenge in cartography planning, and in geo-visualization.
Hill profiles are essentially depictions of hills and mountains in perspective, displayed as suitable on maps that are typical of a smaller scale. They are the earliest example of relief representation in cartography. In the modern day, however, they are rarely used unless they are a component of a “vintage” style.
A terrain model also called a raised-relief map, is a tri-dimensional depiction of terrain that has been manifested as a physical formation. The vertical scale is frequently increased by a ratio of five to ten when portraying topography, this aids visual awareness of landscape characteristics.
Geographic Information Systems
A geographic information system (GIS) is a theoretical model for capturing and analyzing spatial and geographical information. GIS programs (also known as GIS software) are desktop tools that enable users to create queries (client-driven searches), save and change visual and non-visual data, evaluate geographical output values, and graphically display the findings of these processes by displaying it in the forms of charts and maps.
GIS allows formerly unrelated data to be linked. The specific date of incidence, as well as axis coordinates, can be used to document places and extremes found within the planet’s spacetime. This essential feature of GIS has started to catalyze new lines of intellectual inquiry and research.