Plateau: Meaning, Formation, Types, Location and Importance

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Photo of Plateau: Meaning, Formation, Types, Location and Importance

Plateau is often refers to a high plain or a tableland, it is a magnificent landform that can be found in many parts of the world; a plateau has some similarities with a Mesa and because of these similarities, people often confuse both landforms to mean the same thing, hence a mesa is smaller in size when compared with a plateau. Both plateau and mesa are significant relief features of the earth surface that have been formed millions of years ago due to repeated action of snow, water and action of erosional processes on the rock layers, however, both a plateau and a mesa have flat tops and steep slopes and both suddenly rise above their surrounding plain areas.

Plateau Definition

A plateau is defined as a flat elevatedlandformthat rises sharply above the surrounding area on the earth surface. Plateaus occur on everycontinentand could take up large portion of the Earth’s land. A plateau is considered as an important type of landforms, among others like mountains, plains, mesas, plains and hills. Generally, Plateaus are classified according to their surrounding environment such as intermontane, Piedmont, or continental plateaus. Plateaus may be surrounded by low land areas and most times, a river is seen flowing on one of the sides. Plateaus do not have peaks like mountains, but have flat table like surfaces like mesas, which sometime may not be completely flat.

Classification of Plateaus

Plateaus are classified according to their surrounding environment such as intermontane, Piedmont, and continental plateaus.

  1. The Intermontane plateau– when a plateau is surrounded by mountains on all sides, it is refers to an Intermontane plateau. Some examples of the Intermontane plateau include the Tibetan plateau and the Bolivian plateaus.
  2. The Piedmont plateau– a Piedmont plateau is located close to a mountain on one side. Some good examples of Piedmont plateaus are the Malwa plateau in India, the Patagonian plateau in Argentina and the Piedmont plateau in America.
  3. The Continental plateaus- when a plateau is surrounded by oceans or plains, it is refers to as continental plateau. Examples of continental plateaus include the plateaus of Western Australia and Africa.
Picture showing the Colorado plateau, viewed from the west rim of Ute Canyon
Picture showing the Colorado plateau, viewed from the west rim of Ute Canyon


How are plateaus formed?

Plateaus are formed due to many weathering and erosional processes such as volcanic magma, extrusion of lava, running water and glaciers. Plateaus are formed when molten magma rises from the mantle towards the surface of the Earth’s crust; during the rising process, a large flat area of rock is uplifted to form a plateau. The magma does not break through but instead raises a section of the rock up as it rises to form a plateau.

However, plateaus are landforms that were formed millions years ago due to constant action of winds, water and glaciers on the land surface. When water keeps flowing in a specific direction, it breaks down layers of rock over time and carves out channels that will continually dig deeper down; as the water digs its way down, steep slopes are created and that forms the edges of the plateau. Wind is also another factor that creates a plateau; it works hand in hand with water. Wind affects the land layers of rock as running water exposes more layers; the wind erodes the area more and helps to create steep slopes on the sides that make the base of the plateau. In addition, a mountain or other type of landform could be reduced into a plateau, while a very large plateau could give way to smaller landforms like mesa or butt due to constant action of water, snow and glaciers.

Types of Plateaus

  1. Dissected plateau– a dissected plateauis forms as a result of upward movement in the Earth’scrust. The uplift is caused by the slow collision oftectonic plates. The Colorado Plateau, in the western United States, has been rising gradually by about a centimetre per year for more than 10 million years.
  2. Volcanicplateau– A volcanic plateauis formed as a result of numerous, but small volcanic eruptions that slowly build up over time, forming a plateau from the resulting lava flows. The North Island Volcanic Plateau covers most of the central part of the North Island of New Zealand. This volcanic plateau still has threeactive volcanoes: Mount Tongariro, Mount Ngauruhoe, and Mount Ruapehu.

Example/Names of Plateaus and their locations

  1. The Tibetan plateau– this is the highest, largest and most famous plateau in the world; it is located in South-Central Asia and Stretches through the countries of Tibet, China, and India. It is 1,000 km. north to south and 2,000 km. east to west and covers an area of 2,500,000km2(970,000sq mi); with a flat valley floor which at about 16,000 feet above sea level.
  2. TheColumbia Plateau- The Columbia Plateauis located in parts of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho states of the U.S. It is surrounded by the Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains and it is divided by the Columbia River.
  3. The Hardangervidda Plateau– The Hardangervidda Plateau has elevation covers an area of about 6,500km2 and has an average elevation of 1,100 meters and 1,690mwhen viewed from a central position. It is one of the largest plateaus in Europe located at a distance of about 200 km to the west of Oslo in the Hardanger region of western Norway. Northwest of the plateau is bordered by one of the largest glaciers of Norway.
  4. The AntarcticPlateau-This plateau is located in Central Antarctica and cuts across parts of the South Pole and the Amundsen Scott Station. This plateau covers an area of 1,000km2 and has its highest elevation of about 3,000m above sea level.
  5. TheColorado Plateau– TheColorado Plateau includes Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is divided by the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. It is the largest plateau in America, and it covers an area of 337,000km2 and its highest elevation is about 2,450m above sea level.
  6. Ethiopian Highland– This the highest plateau in Africa, it covers the central part of Ethiopia and forms the largest continuous area of its altitude in the continent, with little of its surface falling below 1500m (4,921ft), above sea level. Ethiopian Highland has its height at 4550m above sea level. Another important plateau in Africa is the Table Mountain– Table Mountainis a prominent landform located in Cape Town in South Africa. It is located at the northern end of the Sandstone Mountain Range. To its south is the part of the range known as the Back Table. It is a level plateau measuring 3m from side to side.
  7. TheDeccan Plateau– The Deccan Plateau covers an area of 500,000km2; it is a large plateau, which cuts across eight states of India. It is bordered by two mountain ranges, the Western Ghats and the Eastern, it is 100m in the north, but higher in the south.
  8. TheAtherton Tableland– TheAtherton Tablelandis located in Queensland, Australia. It covers an area of 32,000km2 and has an elevation of 500 to 1,280m above sea level.
  9. ThePotohar Plateau– ThePotohar Plateau is located in the northeastern part of Pakistan. The plateau is bordered by the Jehlum River to the east, by the Indus River to the west, by the Margalla Hills and the Kala Chitta Range to the north, and by the Salt Range to the south. The plateau encompasses four districts which include Jehlum, Chakwal, Rawalpindi and Attock.
  10. The Brazilian Plateau– the Brazilian Plateauis a large plateau that covers almost half of Brazil. The Brazilian Highland is divided into three plateaus. The Atlantic Plateau located at the eastern coast of Brazil.
TheTibetan Plateau is located in South-Central Asia, it is the largest and highest plateau in the world.
TheTibetan Plateau is located in South-Central Asia, it is the largest and highest plateau in the world.


Importance of plateau

  1. Plateaus are very important to man because they are rich in mineral deposits as a result of these mineral deposits, many of the mining areasin the world are located where there are plateaus.
  2. Plateaus are very good sources of minerals such as Iron, copper, gold, diamonds, Manganese, coal, etc.
  3. Areas that have plateau also have waterfalls as river falls from a great height of the plateau
  4. Although plateaus are not very good for agricultural activities due to hard rock formation, hence, agricultural activities can be carried out at the base of the plateau where lava soils have deposited.
  5. Plateaus that are formed from the lava of volcanoes have very fertile soil, making them useful for agriculture activities
  6. Many plateaus have scenic spots and are of great attraction to tourists. (Good examples are the Grand Canyon and many waterfalls).
  7. Plateaus serve as extensive grasslands for nomadic farmer who move from one location to another, to enable their animals feed on the green grasses.
Plateaus provide extensive grasslands for different animals to graze, especially at the base of the plateau
Plateaus provide extensive grasslands for different animals to graze, especially at the base of the plateau