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The Formation of Landforms

A cliff

A cliff

The surface of the Earth is covered with different natural features. Cliffs rise majestically above the ocean, plains roll peacefully along for miles and miles, and dark caves invite human curiosity.

A cave

A cave

These landforms did not magically appear on Earth. They have been built up and torn down for millions of years. The processes that create landforms should be familiar. Some landforms are built up by tectonic processes. These are the movements of the Earth’s crust caused by the convection currents in the hot mantle. The moving crust can cause plates to collide and build mountains and volcanoes. The crustal plates can also move apart and cause giant rift valleys to form. However, tectonic processes are not the only thing shaping the terrain of the Earth.

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya

The Great Rift Valley in Kenya

Weathering and erosion also have a great impact on the physical features of a piece of Earth. Weathering is the process of breaking down rocks into smaller pieces. Erosion is the process of moving these pieces from one place to another place. Water and wind are both powerful forces in weathering and erosion. A river can wear down the land around it and form giant canyons, like the Grand Canyon which was formed by the Colorado River. Wind can tear away softer pieces of rock on a hill or mountain until all that is left is the teetering butte.

The surface of the Earth is not smooth. The crust of the Earth is made up of plates that are like puzzle pieces.

The surface of the Earth is not smooth. The crust of the Earth is made up of plates that are like puzzle pieces.

The sediments that form through weathering and that are moved by erosion have to land somewhere. When these tiny pieces of rock land, it is called deposition. The deposition of sediments can form landforms as well. A delta is a triangular piece of land formed within rivers (usually where there is a turn in the river or where the river meets the ocean) by the deposition of sediments. The deposition of sediments also forms the giant plains found all over the world.

A river delta

A river delta

All three of these processes, tectonic activity, weathering and erosion, and deposition, change our landscape by building landforms up and tearing them down. These processes are taking place every day, but their effects are difficult to see because they happen so slowly. It takes millions of years to build a mountain, and it takes millions more to tear it down. However, nothing about the landscape of the Earth stays the same – the only thing constant about the landforms of the Earth is change.