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In geography and geology, a cliff is a significant vertical, or near vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are formed as erosion landforms due to the processes of erosion and weathering that produce them. Cliffs are common on coasts, in mountainous areas, escarpments and along rivers. Cliffs are usually formed by rock that is resistant to erosion and weathering. Sedimentary rocks are most likely to form sandstone, limestone, chalk, and dolomite. Igneous rocks, such as granite and basalt also often form cliffs.

An escarpment (or scarp) is a type of cliff, formed by the movement of a geologic fault, or a landslide.

Most cliffs have some form of scree slope at their base. In arid areas or under high cliffs, these are generally exposed jumbles of fallen rock. In areas of higher moisture, a soil slope may obscure the talus.

Many cliffs also feature tributary waterfalls or rock shelters. Sometimes a cliff peters out at the end of a ridge, with tea tables or other types of rock columns remaining.

Given that a cliff need not be exactly vertical, there can be ambiguity about whether a given slope is a cliff or not, and also about how much of a certain slope to count as a cliff. For example, given a truly vertical rock wall above a very steep slope, one could count only the rock wall, or the combination. This makes listings of cliffs an inherently uncertain endeavor.

Some of the largest cliffs on Earth are found underwater. For example, an 8000 metres drop over an only 4250 metre span can be found at a ridge sitting inside the Kermadec Trenchmarker. At lat.-34.363784, long.-178.220213, the water measures only 6 metres deep. At lat.-34.363736, long. -178.174210, the sea depth is 8006 metres. This includes a slope of c.70 degrees for over 5200 metres.-->

The highest cliff (rock wall, mountain face) in the world, is Nanga Parbatmarker's Rupal Flank in the Himalayas, that rises 4600 metres above its base.

According to some sources, the highest cliff in the world, about 1,340 m high, is the east face of Great Trangomarker in the Karakorammarker mountains of northern Pakistanmarker. This uses a fairly stringent notion of cliff, as the 1,340 m figure refers to a nearly vertical headwall; adding in a very steep approach brings the total height to over 1,600 m.

The location of the world's highest sea cliffs depends also on the definition of 'cliff' that is used. The Guinness record books claim it is Kalaupapa, Hawaiimarker, at 1,010 m high. Another contender is the north face of Mitre Peak, which drops 1683 metres to Milford Soundmarker, New Zealandmarker . These are subject to a less stringent definition, as the average slope of these cliffs at Kaulapapa is about 1.7, corresponding to an angle of 60 degrees, and Mitre Peak is similar. A more vertical drop into the sea can be found at Maujit Qaqarssuasia (also known as the 'Thumbnail') which is situated in the Torssakutak fjord area at the very tip of South Greenlandmarker and drops 1560m near-vertically.

Considering a truly vertical drop, Mount Thormarker on Baffin Islandmarker in Arctic Canadamarker is often considered the highest at 1,370 m (4,500 ft) high in total (the top 480 m (1,600 ft) is overhanging), and is said to give it the longest purely vertical drop on Earth at 1,250 m (4,100 ft). There is some doubt as to whether this height is exceeded by other cliffs on Baffin Island or in Greenland, however.

The Ordnance Surveymarker distinguishes between cliffs (continuous line along the top edge with projections down the face) and outcrops (continuous lines along lower edge).

Large and famous cliffs

The highest cliff in the solar system may be Verona Rupes, an approximately 20 km (12 mile) high fault scarp on Miranda, a moon of Uranus.The following is an incomplete list of cliffs of the world. (see also :Category:Cliffs)


Above Land


Above Sea Above Land

North America

Several big granite faces in the Arctic regions vie for the title of 'highest purely vertical drop on Earth', but reliable measurements are not always available. The possible contenders include (measurements are approximate):
  • Mount Thormarker, Baffin Islandmarker, Canadamarker; 1,370 m (4,500 ft) total; top 480 m (1,600 ft) is overhanging. This is commonly regarded as being the largest purely vertical drop on Earth at 1,250 m (4,100 ft).
  • The sheer north face of Polar Sun Spire, in the Sam Ford fjord of Baffin Islandmarker, has been reported as exceeding Mount Thor's west face in height .
  • Ketil's west face in Tasermiut, Greenlandmarker (also known as God's Thumbnail), has been reported as 1,400 m - 1,450 m high, (although some doubt has been cast on this).

Other notable cliffs include:

South America


Above Sea Above Land
  • Drakensberg Amphitheatre, South Africa 1200 m above base, 5 km long. The Tugela Fallsmarker, the world's second tallest waterfall, falls 948 m over the edge of the cliff face.
  • Mount Meru, Tanzaniamarker Caldera Cliffs, 1500 m
  • Klein Winterhoek, Western Cape, South Africa, 1220 m above base.
  • Tsaranoro, Madagascar, 700 m above base
  • Karambony, Madagascar, 380 m above base.
  • Innumerable peaks in the Drakensberg mountains of South Africa are spectacular cliff formations. The Drakensberg Range is regarded, together with Ethiopia's Simien Mountainsmarker, as one of the two finest erosional mountain ranges on Earth. Because of their near-unique geological formation, the range has an extraordinarily high percentage of cliff faces making up its length, particularly along the highest portion of the range. This portion of the range is virtually uninterrupted cliff faces, ranging from 600m to 1200m in height for almost 250 km. Of all, the "Drakensberg Amphitheatre" (mentioned above) is probably the most impressive individual formation. Other notable cliffs include the Trojan Wall, Cleft Peakmarker, Injisuthi Triplets, Cathedral Peak, Monk's Cowl, Mnweni Butress etc. The cliff faces of the Blyde River Canyonmarker, technically still part of the Drakensberg, may be over 800m, with the main face of the Swadini Buttress approximately 1000m tall.


Above Sea


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