Types of Mountains

by Fraser Cain on April 23, 2009

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Mount Everest from Kalapatthar. Photo: Pavel Novak

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar. Photo: Pavel Novak


One feature of the Earth that you can’t miss are its mountains. But did you know there are different types of mountains? The different mountain types are formed in different ways, through tectonic plates crunching into each other, or sliding past one another, or even from magma coming up out of the Earth. The mountains are different in their appearance, and in their formation. Let’s take a look at each of the major mountain types.

Fold Mountains
The most common type of mountain in the world are called fold mountains. When you see vast mountain ranges stretching on for thousands of kilometers, those are fold mountains. Fold mountains are formed when two of the Earth’s tectonic plates collide head on; like two cars crashing together. The edges of each tectonic plate crumple and buckle, and these create the mountains. Some examples of fold mountain ranges include the Rocky Mountains in North America, and the Himalayan Mountains in Asia.

Fault-Block Mountains
Fault-block mountains (or just “block mountain“) are created when faults or cracks in the Earth’s crust force materials upward. So instead of folding, like the plate collision we get with fold mountains, block mountains break up into chunks and move up or down. Fault-block mountains usually have a steep front side and then a sloping back side. Examples of fault-block mountains include the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Dome Mountains
Dome mountains are created when a large amount of magma pushes up from below the Earth’s crust, but it never actually reaches the surface and erupts. And then, before it can erupt, the source of the magma goes away and the pushed up rock cools and hardens into a dome shape. Since the dome is higher than its surroundings, erosion works from the top creating a circular mountain range.

Volcanic Mountains
Here’s a fairly familiar kind of mountain. Volcanic mountains are created when magma from beneath the Earth makes its way to the surface. When does get the surface, the magma erupts as lava, ash, rock and volcanic gases. This material builds up around the volcanic vent, building up a mountain. Some of the largest mountains in the world were created this way, including Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Other familiar volcanoes are Mt. Fuji in Japan and Mt. Rainier in the US.

Plateau Mountains
Plateau mountains are actually formed by the Earth’s internal activity; instead, they’re revealed by erosion. They’re created when running water carves deep channels into a region, creating mountains. Over billions of years, the rivers can cut deep into a plateau and make tall mountains. Plateau mountains are usually found near folded mountains.

We have written many articles about mountains for Universe Today. Here’s an article about a massive mountain range seen on Titan, and the search for a mountain of eternal sunlight on the Moon.

Here are more article about mountains:

Want more resources on the Earth? Here’s a link to NASA’s Human Spaceflight page, and here’s NASA’s Visible Earth.

We have also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast about Earth, as part of our tour through the Solar System – Episode 51: Earth.

Sources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mountain_types
http://www.wvgs.wvnet.edu/www/geology/geolf001.htm
http://library.thinkquest.org/05aug/00184/Mountain%20Ranges%20Page.htm

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

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