Landforms on the Planet
This has been an interesting and difficult page to prepare. In order to follow
the picture above, I had to scour the internet for decent, and non-copyrighted
images that I could include in this course. Many of the images are satellite
images from NASA, and can be found at Visible
Earth. I decided that a few landforms were missing from this list, so I
added a few more. These are noticeable by their lack of a number in front of
the name. I would like you to move through this section and get an idea of the
differences in landforms, and on your next vacation in a car or plane, try to
notice what you see as you drive or fly by. It makes any trip more interesting
when you can see geology instead of merely looking at pictures.
Landforms are described as geologic features, but often are confused with
biomes as well. Sometimes the distinction is clear, while at other times it
is hard to determine which word best describes the feature. Typically, landform
will have a particular plant type that is definitive. Let's look at the picture
above and then at the pictures below and see how these landforms are described.
Types of Landforms
1. ocean* -- a great expanse of salt water. I put this picture in here because
it seemed to me that an ocean would be obvious, and anyone can see a nice ocean
picture from space, as some are found later on this pages. I just liked this
wave as it reminded me of body-surfing on Huntington Beach, CA., when I was
younger. The oceans occupy 71% of the surface of the planet and there is a great
diversity of animal life that can be found in the oceans and nowhere else. While
many think of the oceans in a horizontal manner, such as the Pacific, Atlantic,
Indian, and Arctic Oceans, there is a vertical manner in which the oceans are
described. These include the photic (region to which photosynthetic sunlight
can penetrate ... about 200 meters) and the aphotic zone where no plants exist.
There littoral zone out to the continental shelf, the benthic zone beyond the
shelf. is the benthic zone. Deeper and deeper zones go from the epipelagic zone
(free-swimming animals in the open ocean) down to the abyssalpelagic zone (free-swimming
and bottom-dwelling animals in the depths ofthe ocean bottom) The hadal zone
is which are found in deep ocean trenches formed by the geologic process of
subduction). Of great interest in the depth of the oceans are the strange lifeforms
and geothermal vents which continue to be newly discovered and described.
2. sea* -- a relatively large body of water, either part of an ocean that
is partially surrounded by land (the Caribbean Sea), or a body of water that
is completely landlocked (the Caspian Sea is seen in the image below)
3. prairie -- an extensive area of flat or rolling, mostly treeless grassland.
This image is of the prairie of Saskatchewan. If you want to see a really, really
flat terrain, then drive up to the prairie province of Canada and you can see
forever. If you do not want to go so far, just head west from Grand Forks, North
Dakota. It isn't much different. One thing that describes this terrain is the
winds. Even small amounts of snowfall become huge drifts due to the wind and
no geolographic feature to block them.
4. plateau -- an elevated level expanse of land; a tableland. I suppose that
you could use the image above to see a plateau, but I have added the Tibetan
Plateau, as seen below, because it is a great elevation, and quite expansive.
5. mountain -- An high, steep elevation of the earth's surface, higher than
a hill. Okay, mountains are obvious features. Below is the space view of Everest,
and to its right is the climbers view before the ascent into the "death
zone" where oxygen is scarce and climbing dangerous.
6. volcano -- An opening in the earth's crust through which molten lava, ash,
and gases are ejected. Since I have been to Hawaii on several occasions, I am
well-acquainited with the volcanoes there, and it is the Hawaiian volcano at
Kiluaea that I have included in this page.
7. archipelago* -- a chain of islands. I would be remiss as a biologist if
some reference to the famous Galapogas Islands was not referenced or directly
included in this course. Here is a nice space satellite image of this collection
of islands to the west of South America.
8. island -- a piece of land completely surrounded by water. Okay, so the
picture above shows island. Why do we need to see another one below? Well, because
it is a landform, so take a nice look at Mauna Loa which is a mountain, a volcano,
and most of the Island of Hawaii ... all in one image from space.
atoll - a ring (or partial ring) of coral that forms an island in an ocean
or sea. Typically, the volcanic mountain that rose up out of the sea was covered
by coral just off the shore of the island. As wind, rain, and other forms of
weather eroded the volcanic mountain, the coral would still grow at the boundary
between land and ocean. When erosion completely wiped out the island, all that
remains is the ring of coral around what used to be an island. The atoll that
is most familiar to me ... Kure Atoll is the northernmost Hawaiian "island."
25, 1946, the US detonated a nuclear bomb in the middle of Bikini Atoll.
Below and right is a look at that event.
9. peninsula* -- a narrow stretch of land surrounded on three sides by water.
I have chosen to the Baja, which sticks out south of California.
10. gulf* -- A large area of a sea or ocean partially enclosed by land (the
Gulf of Mexico). This picture of the Gulf of Mexico was taken as Hurricane Katrina
was rolling in during the the spring of 2005.
11. bay -- an area of sea partially enclosed by land, smaller than a gulf.
Well, the Hudson Bay isn't very small, but it is well known, and in the image
below, it is seen when covered by ice.
12. sound* -- a long passage of water connecting two larger bodies. The best
known sound in the US is the Puget Sound of northwest Washington.
13. isthmus* -- a narrow strip of land, like a bridge, connecting two larger
strips of land. What better image than that of the country of Panama.
14. delta -- a place
at the river's mouth, where the river splits into many different sections, forming
a marshy triangle. This delta is found in Greenland and obviously does not form
a marshy triangle. Marshland is not definitive of a delta, but the triangle
of waterways is.
15. river mouth -- the place where a river empties into a larger body of water.
The Mississippi River mouth is seen in the image below. Note all of the sediment
that has been deposited into the Gulf of Mexico by this river.
river source - if the river mouth is a landform, then so too could the river
source be. A source is the beginning of a river, and while it is nowhere as
geologically interesting as the mouth is, some of these places are pretty. My
favorite river source is the headwaters of the Rapid River in the Black Hills.
I have been camping there as a student, teacher, and tourist with my family.
16. harbor -- a sheltered part of a body of water deep enough to provide anchorage
for ships. The famous Pearl Harbor of Oahu, Hawaii is seen to the lower left
of center in the photograph.
17. strait -- A narrow channel of water joining two larger bodies of water
(usually narrower than a sound). My favorite strait is the Bosporous Strait
in Turkey. The city of Istanbul occupies both sides of this straight strait
18. cape -- A point or head of land projecting into a body of water. And what
cape is better known that Cape Cod, Mass.
19. river -- A large natural stream of water emptying into an ocean, lake,
or other body of water. I have included this great space photograph of the Amazon
River with its many tributaries ... a landform mentioned below this image too.
20. tributary* -- A stream that flows into a larger stream or other body of
21. valley -- An elongated lowland between ranges of mountains, hills, or
other uplands, often having a river or stream running along the bottom. This
picture was circulating around the internet e-mail a few months ago, and I thought
it was too spectacular to leave out.
fjord - a long, narrow sea inlet that is bordered by steep cliffs. Many Minnesotans
have their heritage in Norway, and this country undoubtedly has some of the
beautiful fjords in the world
22. divide* -- a ridge of land that marks the directional flow of rivers on
either side. I have visited the Continental Divide in Colorado, Montana, and
even in the Yukon. This image is of the divide in the Colorado Rockies.
23. moraine* -- An accumulation of boulders, stones, or other debris carried
and deposited by a glacier. A great photograph of a boulder moraine is that
of northwest Ontario, where I love to go fishing in the summer.
24. glacier -- A huge mass of ice slowly flowing over a land mass. The image
below and left is of the Piedmont Glacier on Baffin Island, and the image below
and right is of the Karakoram Region of north Pakistan.
25. butte -- A hill that rises abruptly from the surrounding area and has
sloping sides and a flat top. I have visited Bear Butte in South Dakota and
climbed to the top. It is considered very sacred ground by the Souix, and every
caution is taken to remain on the marked trails out of respect for this site.
26. mesa -- A broad, flat-topped elevation with one or more clifflike sides.
Mesas like this one, are a common sight in northern Arizona and much of Utah.
27. canyon -- A narrow chasm with steep cliff walls, cut into the earth by
running water. Two famous canyons in the US are the Grand Canyon (lower right
3-D image) and Bryce Canyon (lower left ... photograph).
cave -- simply a hole in the ground, most commonly in a rock that is porous
and readily eroded from within. Caves are home to many animals. A troglobiont
('troglo' means cave or hole in Greek and 'bio' means life) is an organism that
lives in a cave. I have included some interesting information about the lifeforms
found in some caves. Some animals live only in caves - they are called troglobites
(meaning 'cave dwellers'). These animals are adapted to life in the dark (they
are often colorless and many cannot see at all) and they cannot survive outside
the cave. Some examples include the blind Texas salamander, blind flatworms,
eyeless shrimp, eyeless fish, cave beetles, cave crayfish, and some bristletails,
isopods and copepods. Some animals live in caves but also venture out of the
cave to complete their life cycle - these animals are called trogloxenes (meaning
'cave guests'). Some trogloxenes include some bats (who only roost in caves),
pack rats (who nest in caves), cave crickets (who feed outside the cave), flies
and gnats. Trogolophiles (meaning 'cave lovers') are animals who sometimes live
in caves but also live elsewhere. Some Trogolophiles include cave crickets,
cave beetles, salamanders, millipedes, snails, copepods, segmented worms, mites,
spider, and daddy longlegs (harvestman). Some animals only enter caves occasionally
- these animals are called incidentals. Some incidentals include raccoons, frogs,
and people. Since I have been in Jewel
Cave as a student, teacher, and tourist, including a special spelunking
trip, I have included two pictures of this South Dakota cave found in the Black
28. lake* -- A large inland body of fresh water or salt water. I thought this
image of the Great Lakes was really cool.
29. basin* -- A large, bowl-shaped depression in the surface of the land,
often drained by a single river (the Amazon Basin seen earlier in this page)
or now from a mountaintop in Idaho.
30. hill* -- a small elevation in the earth's surface. The rolling hills of
eastern Washington serve as a nice picture.
31. swamp -- A lowland region saturated with water. Swamps can be found in
Minnesota, as readily as in Florida.
32. oasis -- A fertile or green spot in a desert or wasteland ... like this
one in Egypt.
33. desert -- an area with very little rainfall or vegetation. Here is a dramatic
photograph from space of the desert of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
dune - how could the desert landform be on the list but the dune not? A dune
is a hill or a ridge made of sand. Dunes
are shaped by the wind, and change all the time.
34. steppe -- A vast grass-covered plain. While most think of the brutal steppes
of Russia, this image of the steppes of Spain is just as descriptive.
35. cataract -- A large or high waterfall, like this picture from the Great
Smokey Mountains in Tennessee.
36. marsh -- An area of soft, wet, low-lying land, with grassy vegetation,
often forming a transition zone between water and land. The marsh that I am
most familiar with is the Horicon Marsh of Wisconsin where hundreds of thousands
of migratory waterfowl stop there on their journey north and south.
37. flood plain -- A plain bordering a river and subject to flooding. This
image from space clearly shows the floodplain of the Mississippi River. No wonder,
when the floods of 1993 overflowed the banks that so much farmland was innundated
There is a simple link found here that takes you to the Enchanted
Learning Website where you can take a little quiz on your knowledge of landforms.
I pasted the page into the course here so you can see the questions when I choose
to do this quiz in class as a large group exercise.
Landforms Find It! Quiz Name________________________________
Use the Little Explorers picture dictionary to answer the following questions.
1. This word starts with a "C." It is the name of the land masses
that the Earth is divided into. What are these land masses called? ___________________
2. This word starts with a "C." It is a large hole in the side of
a hill or mountain or in the ground. What is it called? _______________
3. This word starts with a "C." It is a deep valley with very steep
sides - often carved from the Earth by a river. What is it called? _______________
4. This word starts with an "O." It is one of the huge bodies of
salt water that make up about two thirds of the surface of the Earth. What is
this word? _______________
5. This word starts with an "S." It is a large body of salt water
that is often connected to a larger body of water. What is this word? _______________
6. This word starts with an "R." It is a body of water that flows
downhill, usually emptying into a larger body of water. What is it called? _______________
7. This word starts with an "M." It is a very tall, raised area
on earth, sometimes with a spiky top. What is it called? ________________________
8. This word starts with an "I." It is a piece of land that is surrounded
by water on all sides. What is it called? _______________
9. This word starts with an "H." It is a large mound or raised area
of earth. What is it called? _______________
10. This word starts with a "W." It occurs when a river falls off
steeply. What is it called? _____________________
11. This word starts with a "V." It is a low place between mountains.
What is it called? _______________
12. This word starts with a "V." It is a mountainous vent in the
Earth's crust that can spew out lava. What is it called? _________________
13.This word starts with an "L." It is medium-sized body of water
surrounded by land. What is it called? _______________
14. This word starts with a "P." It is a small body of water surrounded
by land. What is it called? _______________
15. This word starts with a "P." It is a piece of land that is surrounded
by water on three sides. What is it called? _______________