ⓘ Terrain


A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other planetary body. Landforms together make up a given terrain, and their arrangement in the landscape is known as topography. Typical landforms include hills, mountains, plateaus, canyons, and valleys, as well as shoreline features such as bays, peninsulas, and seas, including submerged features such as mid-ocean ridges, volcanoes, and the great ocean basins.


A mountain is a large landform that rises above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. A mountain is generally steeper than a hill. Mountains are formed through tectonic forces or volcanism. These forces can locally raise the surface of the earth. Mountains erode slowly through the action of rivers, weather conditions, and glaciers. A few mountains are isolated summits, but most occur in huge mountain ranges. High elevations on mountains produce colder climates than at sea level. These colder climates strongly affect the ecosystems of mountains: different el ...

Structural basin

A structural basin is a large-scale structural formation of rock strata formed by tectonic warping of previously flat-lying strata. Structural basins are geological depressions, and are the inverse of domes. Some elongated structural basins are also known as synclines. Structural basins may also be sedimentary basins, which are aggregations of sediment that filled up a depression or accumulated in an area; however, many structural basins were formed by tectonic events long after the sedimentary layers were deposited. Basins may appear on a geologic map as roughly circular or elliptical, wi ...

Mountain range

A mountain range or hill range is a series of mountains or hills ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similarity in form, structure, and alignment that have arisen from the same cause, usually an orogeny. Mountain ranges are formed by a variety of geological processes, but most of the significant ones on Earth are the result of plate tectonics. Mountain ranges are also found on many planetary mass objects in the Solar System and are likely a feature of most terrestrial planets. Mountain ranges are usually segme ...


In geomorphology, a col is the lowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks. It may also be called a gap. Particularly rugged and forbidding cols in the terrain are usually referred to as notches. They are generally unsuitable as mountain passes, but are occasionally crossed by mule tracks or climbers routes. The term col tends to be associated more with mountain rather than hill ranges. The height of a summit above its highest col called the key col is effectively a measure of a mountains topographic prominence. Cols lie on the line of the watershed between two mountains, often on a ...


A volcano is a rupture in the crust of a planetary-mass object, such as Earth, that allows hot lava, volcanic ash, and gases to escape from a magma chamber below the surface. Earths volcanoes occur because its crust is broken into 17 major, rigid tectonic plates that float on a hotter, softer layer in its mantle. Therefore, on Earth, volcanoes are generally found where tectonic plates are diverging or converging, and most are found underwater. For example, a mid-oceanic ridge, such as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, has volcanoes caused by divergent tectonic plates whereas the Pacific Ring of Fire ...


ⓘ Terrain

Terrain or relief involves the vertical and horizontal dimensions of land surface. The term bathymetry is used to describe underwater relief, while hypsometry studies terrain relative to sea level. The Latin word terra means "earth."

In physical geography, terrain is the lay of the land. This is usually expressed in terms of the elevation, slope, and orientation of terrain features. Terrain affects surface water flow and distribution. Over a large area, it can affect weather and climate patterns.


1. Importance

The understanding of terrain is critical for many reasons:

  • The terrain of a region largely determines its suitability for human settlement: flatter, alluvial plains tend to have better farming soils with steeper, rockier uplands.
  • Precise knowledge of terrain is vital in aviation, especially for low-flying routes and maneuvers see terrain collision avoidance and airport altitudes. Terrain will also affect range and performance of radars and terrestrial radio navigation systems. Furthermore, a hilly or mountainous terrain can strongly impact the implementation of a new aerodrome and the orientation of its runways.
  • In terms of environmental quality, agriculture, hydrology and other interdisciplinary sciences; understanding the terrain of an area assists the understanding of watershed boundaries, drainage characteristics, drainage systems, groundwater systems, water movement, and impacts on water quality. Complex arrays of relief data are used as input parameters for hydrology transport models such as the SWMM or DSSAM Models to allow prediction of river water quality.
  • Understanding terrain also supports soil conservation, especially in agriculture. Contour ploughing is an established practice enabling sustainable agriculture on sloping land; it is the practice of ploughing along lines of equal elevation instead of up and down a slope.
  • Terrain is important in determining weather patterns. Two areas geographically close to each other may differ radically in precipitation levels or timing because of elevation differences or a "rain shadow" effect.
  • Terrain is militarily critical because it determines the ability of armed forces to take and hold areas, and move troops and material into and through areas. An understanding of terrain is basic to both defensive and offensive strategy.

2. Relief

Relief or local relief refers specifically to the quantitative measurement of vertical elevation change in a landscape. It is the difference between maximum and minimum elevations within a given area, usually of limited extent. The relief of a landscape can change with the size of the area over which it is measured, making the definition of the scale over which it is measured very important. Because it is related to the slope of surfaces within the area of interest and to the gradient of any streams present, the relief of a landscape is a useful metric in the study of the Earths surface. Relief energy, which may be defined inter alia as "the maximum height range in a regular grid", is essentially an indication of the ruggedness or relative height of the terrain.


3. Geomorphology

Geomorphology is in large part the study of the formation of terrain or topography. Terrain is formed by concurrent processes:

  • Geological processes: Migration of tectonic plates, faulting and folding, mountain formation, volcanic eruptions, etc.
  • Erosional processes: glacial, water, wind, chemical and gravitational mass movement; such as landslides, downhill creep, flows, slumps, and rock falls.
  • Extraterrestrial: meteorite impacts.

Tectonic processes such as orogenies and uplifts cause land to be elevated, whereas erosional and weathering processes wear the land away by smoothing and reducing topographic features. The relationship of erosion and tectonics rarely if ever reaches equilibrium. These processes are also codependent, however the full range of their interactions is still a topic of debate.

Land surface parameters are quantitative measures of various morphometric properties of a surface. The most common examples are used to derive slope or aspect of a terrain or curvatures at each location. These measures can also be used to derive hydrological parameters that reflect flow/erosion processes. Climatic parameters are based on the modelling of solar radiation or air flow.

Land surface objects, or landforms, are definite physical objects that differ from the surrounding objects. The most typical examples airlines of watersheds, stream patterns, ridges, break-lines, pools or borders of specific landforms.