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A mountain is a large landform that stretches above the surrounding land in a limited area usually in the form of a peak. A mountain is generally steeper than a hill. The adjective montane is used to describe mountainous areas and things associated with them. The study of mountains is Orology.

Exogeology deals with planetary mountains, which in that branch of science are usually called montes (singular - mons). The highest mountain on earth is the Mount Everestmarker (elevation 8,848 m). The highest known mountain in the Solar System is Olympus Monsmarker on the planet Mars (elevation 21,171 m).


There is no universally-accepted definition of mountain. Elevation, volume, relief, steepness, spacing and continuity has been used as criteria for defining a mountain. In the Oxford English Dictionary a mountain is defined as "a natural elevation of the earth surface rising more or less abruptly from the surrounding level and attaining an altitude which, relatively to the adjacent elevation, is impressive or notable."

In the United Statesmarker, the following points of measurement have been used and taught in geography classes:
  • Flat to 500 feet, base to highest point - Rolling Plain
  • Highest point 501 to 999 feet above base - Hill
  • Highest point 1000 feet or more above base - Mountain
Whether a landform is called a mountain may depend on usage among the local people. The highest point in San Franciscomarker, Californiamarker, is called Mount Davidsonmarker, notwithstanding its height of 990 feet, which makes it ten feet short of the minimum for a mountain in American appellation.

Other definitions of "mountain" include:
  • Height over base of at least 2,500m
  • Height over base of 1500-2500m with a slope greater than 2 degrees
  • Height over base of 1000-1500m with a slope greater than 5 degrees
  • Local (radius 7 km) elevation greater than 300m, or 300-1000m if local (radius 7 km) elevation is greater than 300m
By this definition, mountains cover 64% of Asia, 25% of Europe, 22% of South America, 17% of Australia, and 3% of Africa. As a whole, 24% of the Earth's land mass is mountainous and 10% of people live in mountainous regions. Most of the world's rivers are fed from mountain sources, and more than half of humanity depends on mountains for water.


High mountains, as well as those located close to the Earth's poles, reach into the colder layers of the atmosphere. They are consequently subject to glaciation, and erosion through frost action. Such processes produce the peak shape. Some of these mountains have glacial lakes, created by melting glaciers; for example, there are an estimated 3,000 glacial lakes in Bhutanmarker. Mountains can be eroded and weathered, altering their characteristics over time.

Tall mountains have different climatic conditions at the top than at the base, and will thus have different life zones at different altitudes. The flora and fauna found in these zones tend to become isolated since the conditions above and below a particular zone will be inhospitable to those organisms. These isolated ecological systems are known as sky islands and/or microclimates. Alpine forests are forests on mountain sides.

Mountains are colder than lower ground, because the Sun heats Earth from the ground up. The Sun's radiation travels through the atmosphere to the ground, where Earth absorbs the heat. Air closest to the Earth's surface is, in general, warmest (see lapse rate for details). Air temperature normally drops 1 to 2 degrees Celsius (1.8 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) for each 300 meters (1000 ft) of altitude.

Mountains are generally less preferable for human habitation than lowlands; the weather is often harsher, and there is little level ground suitable for agriculture. At very high altitudes, there is less oxygen in the air and less protection against solar radiation (UV). Acute mountain sickness (caused by hypoxia - a lack of oxygen in the blood) affects over half of lowlanders who spend more than a few hours above 3,500 meters (11,483 ft).

Many mountains and mountain ranges throughout the world have been left in their natural state, and are today primarily used for recreation, while others are used for logging, mining, grazing, or see little use. Some mountains offer spectacular views from their summits, while others are densely wooded. Summit accessibility is affected by height, steepness, latitude, terrain, weather. Roads, lifts, or tramways affect accessibility. Hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding are recreational activities enjoyed on mountains. Mountains that support heavy recreational use (especially downhill skiing) are often the locations of mountain resorts.

Types of mountains

Mountains can be characterized in several ways. Some mountains are volcanoes and can be characterized by the type of lava. Other mountains are shaped by glacial processes and can be characterized by their glaciated features. Still others are typified by the faulting and folding of the Earth's crust, or by the collision of continental plates via plate tectonics (the Himalayasmarker, for instance). Shape and placement within the overall landscape also define mountains and mountainous structures (such as butte and monadnock). Finally, mountains can be characterized by the type of rock that make up their composition.


Image:Himalaya_annotated.jpg|thumb|right|The Himalayan mountain range with Mount Everest.rect 58 14 160 49 Chomo Lonzomarkerrect 200 28 335 52 Makalumarkerrect 378 24 566 45 Mount Everestmarkerrect 188 581 920 656 Tibetan Plateaumarkerrect 250 406 340 427 Rong Riverrect 333 149 409 186 Changtsemarkerrect 550 284 677 303 Rongbuk Glaciermarkerrect 478 196 570 218 North Facemarkerrect 237 231 346 267 East Rongbuk Glaciermarkerrect 314 290 536 309 North Col north ridge routemarkerrect 531 79 663 105 Lhotsemarkerrect 582 112 711 130 Nuptsemarkerrect 603 232 733 254 South Col routerect 716 165 839 206 Gyachung Kangmarkerrect 882 147 967 183 Cho Oyumarkerrect 1 1 999 661

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A mountain is usually produced by the movement of lithospheric plates, either orogenic movement or epeirogenic movement. The compressional forces, isostatic uplift and intrusion of igneous matter forces surface rock upward, creating a landform higher than the surrounding features. The height of the feature makes it either a hill or, if higher and steeper, a mountain. The absolute heights of features termed mountains and hills vary greatly according to an area's terrain. The major mountains tend to occur in long linear arcs, indicating tectonic plate boundaries and activity. Two types of mountain are formed depending on how the rock reacts to the tectonic forces – block mountains or fold mountains.

Compressional forces in continental collisions may cause the compressed region to thicken, so the upper surface is forced upward. In order to balance the weight of the earth surface, much of the compressed rock is forced downward, producing deep "mountain roots" [see the Book of "Earth", Press and Siever page.413]. Mountains therefore form downward as well as upward (see isostasy). However, in some continental collisions part of one continent may simply override part of the others, crumpling in the process.

Some isolated mountains were produced by volcanoes, including many apparently small islands that reach a great height above the ocean floor.
Block mountains are created when large areas are widely broken up by faults creating large vertical displacements. This occurrence is fairly common. The uplifted blocks are block mountains or horsts. The intervening dropped blocks are termed graben: these can be small or form extensive rift valley systems. This form of landscape can be seen in East Africa, the Vosgesmarker, the Basin and Range province of Western North America and the Rhinemarker valley. These areas often occur when the regional stress is extensional and the crust is thinned.

The mid-ocean ridges are often referred to as undersea mountain ranges due to their bathymetric prominence.

Rock that does not fault may fold, either symmetrically or asymmetrically. The upfolds are anticlines and the downfolds are synclines: in asymmetric folding there may also be recumbent and overturned folds. The Jura mountains are an example of folding. Over time, erosion can bring about an inversion of relief: the soft upthrust rock is worn away so the anticlines are actually lower than the tougher, more compressed rock of the synclines.


Image:102_0245eve.jpg|Mount Everestmarker, , Himalayasmarker, Nepalmarker.Image:Neelkanth.jpg|Nilkantha_marker, , Himalayasmarker, Indiamarker.Image:Mount Kilimanjaro 2007.jpg|Mount Kilimanjaromarker, , Tanzania.Image:Mount Feathertop and Razorback.jpg|Mount Feathertopmarker, , Great Dividing Rangemarker, Victoria, AustraliamarkerImage:PIlotMountainNC big pinnacle.jpg|Pilot Mountainmarker, , Sauratown Mountains, North Carolina, United StatesmarkerImage:Appalachian quebec.jpg|Northern Appalachian Mountainsmarker, Chic-Choc Range, Gaspé Peninsulamarker, Quebec, CanadamarkerImage:Mount_Yu_Shan_-_Taiwan.jpg|Yu Shanmarker (Jade Mountain), , Taiwanmarker.Image:Finsteraarhorn3.jpg |Finsteraarhornmarker, , Bernese Alpsmarker, Switzerlandmarker.Image:PaodeAcucar.JPG|Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazilmarker, , Rio de Janeiromarker, Brazilmarker.Image:Table Mountain DanieVDM.jpg | Table Mountainmarker Cape Town, South AfricaImage:Tangkuban Parahu.jpg| Tangkuban Parahumarker mountain in Bandungmarker, West Javamarker, indonesiamarkerImage:ZugspitzeJubilaeumsgratHoellental.JPG |The Zugspitzemarker, the highest mountain in Germanymarker,Image:Durmitor - near Minin bogaz.jpg |The Durmitormarker, the highest mountain in MontenegromarkerImage:Snowdon_from_Llyn_Llydaw.jpg | Snowdonmarker, the highest mountain in England & Wales (UK)

See also

Further reading

  • Fraknoi, A., Morrison, D., & Wolff, S. (2004). Voyages to the Planets. 3rd Ed. Belmont: Thomson Books/Cole.


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