What is the Difference Between Mountains and Plateaus?
The difference between mountains and plateaus lies in the structure and the origin of the structural formation. Any natural elevation of the earth surface with a pointed peak is called a Mountain or Hill. Whereas A Plateau can be identified as an elevated area compared to its surroundings, having a large almost flat top area. It is also known as tableland because of its flat top area. Plateaus are also subjected to erosional processes like all highlands. As a result, the original characteristics of plateaus are highly altered.
The surface of the earth is not even everywhere. It has an immeasurable variety of landforms. A landform is a natural feature of the solid surface of the Earth generated by the internal process and external processes. Example: Mountains, Plateaus, and Plains.
Some parts are rugged and some are flat. These landforms are the results of these processes:
- Internal process: It leads to the upliftment and the sinking of the earth’s surface due to Endogenic Forces.
- External process: It is the continuous wearing down and rebuilding of the land surface due to Exogenic Forces carried out by running water, ice and wind. The Exogenic Forces results in two processes:
- Erosion— It is the weathering of the earth’s surface. The processes of erosion and deposition are carried out by running water, ice and wind.
- Deposition— It is the rebuilding of a lowered surface (generated by erosion).
- Any natural elevation of the earth surface with a pointed peak is called a Mountain or Hill.
- Mountain: When the elevation rises to more than 900 m above the mean sea level, then it is called Mountain.
- Hill: The elevated landforms lesser than 900m are called Hills.
- Nearly 27% of the world’s land surface is covered by mountains. Mountains are the source of 80% of the planet’s fresh surface water essential for almost every living thing.
- Based on formation, the mountains can be classified as:
- Fold Mountains
- Block Mountains
- Volcanic Mountains
- Residual Mountains/ Relict Mountains
- Fold mountains are formed due to the folding of the crustal rocks by the compressive tectonic forces. Fold Mountains are also called ‘Mountains of Elevation’ as the continental crusts collide by endogenic forces to elevate to great heights.
There are two types of fold mountains based on activity: Old Fold Mountains and Young Fold Mountains.
- Old Fold Mountains: Fold mountains, that were developed before the tertiary period (200 million years ago), are called old fold mountains.
For example Caledonian, Hercynian, Vindhyachal and Aravalis.
- Young Fold Mountains: Young Fold Mountains were started to rise 10 to 25 million years ago. Some new fold mountains are the Alps in Europe, the Rockies of North America, the Andes of South America, the Himalayas of Asia and the Atlas of North Africa. These young fold mountains are still rising by the earth’s tectonic forces.
- Block Mountains are formed due to the down-lifting or uplifting of land caused by the force of tension and faulting. This tension and faulting are generated by the endogenic forces of the earth. This faulting also forms counterparts of the block mountains as rift valleys.
- The land between the two parallel faults either rises to form block mountains or horsts or subsides into a depression called a rift valley.
- Besides, an old fold mountain may also be left as block mountains due to continuous denudation.
For example, the Vosges in France, Black Forest mountains in Germany, etc.
- Volcanic Mountains are formed by cumulating volcanic materials. That’s why these mountains are also known as mountains of accumulation. The volcanic mountains can be categorised based on the quality of volcanic materials:
- If the lava is thin and basic in its composition, it spreads a long-distance forming a flatter cone of gentler slope and low elevation.
- If the lava is thick and of acid composition, a small volcanic cone sharply pointing out is the result.
For example, Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mt. Fujiyama in Japan.
- These mountains are formed from previously existing elevated regions due to erosion by different agencies like weathering, rivers, wind. That is why these mountains are also known as relict mountains.
For example, Nilgiri, Palkonda, Parasnath and Rajmahal (Hills); and the Aravallis, the Vindhyas, and the Satpuras (Mountains).
- A Plateau can be identified as an elevated area compared to its surroundings, having a large almost flat top area. It is also known as tableland because of its flat top area. Plateaus are also subjected to erosional processes like all highlands. As a result, the original characteristics of plateaus are highly altered.
- The plateaus cover about 18% of the earth’s land surface. The Peninsular plateau, one of the oldest plateaus in the world, covers almost 50% of the Indian region.
- According to the mode of formation and physical appearance, plateaus may be divided into five categories:
- Tectonic Plateaus
- Volcanic Plateau
- Dissect Plateaus
- Intermontane plateau
- Piedmont plateau
- Continental plateaus are formed by tectonic movements which cause uplift, of considerable size with fairly uniform altitude.
For example, Deccan plateaus, Mesera plateau, Harz plateau, etc.
- Molten lava from the volcanic eruption may solidify to form successive sheets of basaltic lava, known as the Lava plateau. For example, Antrim Plateau of Northern island, NW part of Deccan Plateau & Columbia Snake Plateau (Biggest one).
For example, the Deccan plateau in southern India, Antrim Plateau of Northern island, NW part of Deccan Plateau & Columbia Snake Plateau (Biggest in the world).
- These landforms are formed due to continuous weathering & erosion by running water, wind plateaus worn down & their surface becomes irregular.
- For example, Scottish Highland, the Blue Mountains & Hornsby Plateau in Australia
Intermontane plateau: These plateaus are fully or partly enclosed by mountains; generally, fold mountains. Intermontane plateaus are formed due to the collision of two or more tectonic plates. So, they are composed of nearly horizontal rock layers. These plateaus are the highest plateaus in the world.
For example, the Tibetian plateau, Bolivian Plateau. When plateaus are surrounded by sea or plains they are known as Continental Plateaus, for example, Deccan plateau, Greenland plateau, South Africa plateau.
Piedmont plateau: Piedmont (means ‘foot of a mountain’) plateaus are located between the foothills of mountains and plains or the sea. These plateaus are also called ‘plateaus of denudation’ as they were as high as mountains in the early stages but now they are reduced by erosion.
For example, peninsular plateau.