What is the Difference between a Mountain and a Plateau?

What are Mountains, Plateaus and Plains? What are 3 Types of Plateaus? Why are Plateaus flat? What is an Example of a Plateau? What are Plateaus called?

We all know how beautiful a mountain is! But do you know what are the plateaus and the difference between a mountain and a plateau? Although they both are parts of geographical landforms and are raised surfaces above the ground, they have some differences and similarities. In this article, we are going to look at plateaus, how plateaus are formed, the difference between a mountain and a plateau and how are plateaus and mountains similar. We will discuss each and every part here in detail. So, let’s begin!

1. What are Mountains, Plateaus and Plains?

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Mountains, plateaus, and plains are different kinds of landforms, which are physical features. On the earth’s surface, a landform is a part of the terrain. Before discussing the difference between a mountain and a plateau, let’s first explain mountains, plateaus, and plains- the three major types of landforms on the Earth.

  • Mountains: Mountains are natural elevations on the surface of the earth which are very large. They rise abruptly above the surface and the surrounding areas. Mountains have steep sides and show significantly exposed bedrock. Mountains typically rise at least 300 meters above the surrounding land. The summit of the mountain is relatively confined. They are significantly prominent compared to their neighboring areas and have a shape of a peak. Mountains can be a type of individual landform or form a chain or series. This series of mountains is known as the mountain range.
  • Plateaus: Plateau is a flat and elevated landform on the surface of the earth. A plateau is an extensive area of a highland that consists of flat terrain. It is raised sharply above the surrounding areas on at least one side. Often plateaus have one or more sides with deep hills. Plateaus are also known as tablelands or high plains. These are very common landforms on the earth’s surface and are found in every country. They take up almost a third of the Earth’s land. Plateaus differ from mountains. Plateaus have relatively flat surfaces that rise above the neighboring area whereas the mountain has steep sides with a confined peak.
  • Plains: The plains are large, flat areas on the surface of the earth. They do not change much in elevation. Plains usually occur as lowlands along valleys and also at the base of mountains. They are a very prominent landform on the earth and take up more than one-third of the world’s land area. They are generally treeless and mainly possess grasses. Plains are fertile and are important areas for agriculture.

2. What are 3 Types of Plateaus?

Plateaus are flat and elevated uplands. They are raised above the neighboring areas sharply. They are raised on at least one side and generally have one or more sides with deep hills. Plateaus are also known as high plains or tablelands. They are the storehouse of minerals and are one of the important landforms on the surface of the earth. Let’s explore plateaus before we learn about the difference between a mountain and a plateau. The three types of plateaus are Tectonic Plateaus, Volcanic Plateaus, and Dissected Plateaus.

  • Tectonic Plateaus: Tectonic Plateaus, as the name suggests, are the type of plateaus that are formed by the tectonic plate’s movements. These movements cause an uplift of the land and lead to the formation of these types of plateaus. They are normally of considerable size and fairly uniform altitude. The plateaus that are enclosed by the mountain ranges are known as innermost plateaus. The innermost plateaus are some of the highest plateaus in the world. An example of this kind of plateau is the Tibetian Plateau which is situated between the Himalayan ranges and Kunlun and the Bolivian plateau between the ranges of the Andes. This plateau is the highest in the world and is referred to by the name, The roof of the world.
  • Volcanic Plateaus: The volcanic plateaus are the result of volcanic activities. They are formed by numerous small volcanic activities or eruptions that slowly build up over time. This build-up of lava flows results in the formation of plateaus. These plateaus are mainly formed by the basaltic lava that comes out from volcanic eruptions. It is the result of build-ups of lava from many volcanic activities that happen over a period of time. The eruptions are quiet and non-violent.
  • Dissected Plateaus: A dissected plateau is formed as a result of the upward movement in the Earth’s crust. The uplift is the result of the slow collision of tectonic plates. The upliftment of the land causes the plateau to form. The plateau area has been severely eroded and the relief becomes sharp. Dissected plateaus are a result of erosion processes. These plateaus are highly eroded and cut by rivers and broken by deep narrow valleys. The formation of dissected plateaus is the result of weathering, denudation, and erosion of the flat land.

3. Why are Plateaus Flat?

Plateaus are flat because they rise sharply above the ground. The plateaus are formed from the magma which is situated deep inside the Earth. The magma gets pushed toward the surface but it sometimes fails to break through the crust. Instead, the magma then lifts up the large, flat, impenetrable rock above it, leading to the formation of plateaus. The plateaus formed are generally flat and have a table-top-like structure. (See What is the Difference Between Hills and Mountains?)

4. What is an Example of a Plateau?

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There are many plateaus in the world. Some of the major examples are: 

  • Tibetan Plateau, Central Asia
  • Colorado Plateau, USA
  • Deccan Plateau, India
  • Mexican Plateau, Mexico
  • Columbia-Snake Plateau, USA
  • Altiplano, Bolivia
  • Laurentian Plateau, Canada
  • Patagonia Plateau, Argentina

5. What are Plateaus called?

Plateaus are called tablelands or high plains. They resemble a table-like structure, having a flat and elevated base. The plateaus are raised sharply above the neighboring area on at least one side and have a flat terrain. They are one of the prominent landforms on the surface of the earth and occupy almost one-third of the total earth’s land. They are large flat landforms on the earth’s surface and are a part of the terrain. Plateaus are of many kinds depending upon their origin and the place they are found. Some of the major types of plateaus are: 

  • Volcanic Plateaus
  • Dissected Plateaus
  • Tectonic Plateaus
  • Intermontane plateaus
  • Mountain border plateaus
  • Domed plateaus

6. How Plateaus are formed?

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Do you know how plateaus are formed? This is the question that we are going to look at here. Plateaus are formed by geologic forces and events. The formation of a plateau occurs over a period of time. The geologic events alter the surface of the earth and lead to the formation of plateaus. The plateaus are sharply raised landforms that have deep hills on at least one side. Plateaus have low relative relief and some altitude.

The different kinds of plateaus are formed from different processes. Some of these take over millions of years to get formed in multiple processes while others were a result of a single process. The pieces of the earth’s crust smash into each other and melt. Many plateaus also form as magma which is situated deep inside the Earth. The magma pushes towards the surface but sometimes fails to break through the crust. Instead, the magma then lifts up the large, flat, impenetrable rock above it, leading to the formation of plateaus. Check out What Layer of the Earth does Magma come from?

7. Why are Plateaus important?

There are many reasons why plateaus are important. Some of the reasons are mentioned below: 

  • Plateaus are a rich source of minerals. They have huge mineral deposits and hence, are very useful. Minerals are an important resource. They have great monetary value and provide a livelihood to people. Most of the mining areas in the world are situated around the plateau region.
  • Most of the plateaus have waterfalls or rivers near them. The water from these sources is used for drinking and other important purposes. Hence, they are an important source of water.
  • Most of the plateaus are extensively filled with grasses. These grasses act as a major food for the animals and cattle owned by the nomadic people. These people are able to feed their cattle and generate a livelihood.
  • Some of the plateaus that are formed as a result of volcanic activity have fertile soils. The plateaus formed by the flow of lava are very productive. These are suitable for farming and other agricultural activities.
  • The plateaus are some of the major tourist spots. They consist of beautiful scenery and great landscapes. Hence, they are important places to travel and provide some livelihood to the local people who set up markets there.

8. How are Plateaus and Mountains similar?

Other than the difference between a mountain and a plateau, there are some similarities between the two. Take a look below to know how are plateaus and mountains similar:

  • Both mountains and plateaus are important landforms on the surface of the earth.
  • They both are highly elevated and risen above the ground.
  • Both of these landforms are formed by the same processes such as tectonic plates shifting. It happens around plate boundaries that create large elevations above the ground.

9. What is the Difference between a Mountain and a Plateau?

Plateaus and mountains are similar to each other, but they have some differences too. The following points will cover the difference between a mountain and a plateau: 

  • The plateaus have a flat top surface and for this reason, they are also known as tablelands and high plains. The mountain, on the other hand, does not have a flat surface. The primary difference between a mountain and a plateau is that a mountain has a confined peak and slanted slopes.
  • The elevation of plateaus can be high or low whereas, the mountains have a high elevation only.
  • The plateaus are flat and have a structure similar to a tabletop while the mountains have a conical shape with a peak.
  • The weather in the plateau area can be humid or dry. But the mountains have generally cold weather and can also have snow, and this is a big difference between a mountain and a plateau.
  • The plateau is a very common tourist attraction and is visited by many people. But mountains are usually situated at high altitudes and have cold to very cold climatic conditions. Due to this reason, they are visited by only trekkers.

10. What is Difference between Plateau and Plain?

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Besides knowing all about the difference between a mountain and a plateau, note that both the plateau and plain are flat landforms on the surface of the earth. But they have some differences too.

  • The plateau is situated at a higher altitude and is raised significantly above ground level. On the other hand, a plain is a low-lying area with no elevation.
  • The plateau rises abruptly from the surrounding area whereas the plains have a gradual slope that is not abrupt.
  • The plateau is known as the high plains or highlands whereas the plains are known as the lowlands.
  • The plateau is a rich source of minerals whereas the plains are best for agricultural purposes because they consist of fertile soils.

So, are you well aware of the difference between a mountain and a plateau? They are both different structures on the earth’s surface. We also talked about plains and how they are important. Now you very well know the different types of plateaus. I am confident that from now on you will not get confused between a mountain and a plateau. (Also read What are Some Words to Describe a Mountain?)

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