Discovering Geology — Geological processes

Landforms are features on the Earth’s surface that make up the terrain, such as mountains, valleys, plains or plateaux. They also include coastal features, such as peninsulas or bays, and underwater features, such as ocean basins and mid-ocean ridges.

BGS scientist collecting samples from Mt Holt for cosmogenic dating to help determine the rate of thinning of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet since the Last Glacial Maximum.
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A BGS scientist collecting samples from Mt Holt, Antactica, for cosmogenic dating to help determine the rate of thinning of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet since the Last Glacial Maximum. BGS © UKRI.

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Landforms are categorised by their physical attributes, such as:

  • elevation
  • orientation
  • slope
  • rock exposure
  • soil type

They can also be organised by the processes that create them. Here are some examples of landforms and the different ways they can be created.

Sand dunes

A sand dune is an ‘aeolian’ landform; this means it is formed by the wind.

E. of Prestatyn. Looking S.
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Sand dunes at Prestatyn, North Wales. BGS © UKRI.

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A peninsula is a type of coastal landform. It is a piece of land almost entirely surrounded by water but connected to the mainland on one side.

Charleshill Peninsula, Braefoot Bay, South Fife.
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Charleshill Peninsula, Braefoot Bay, Fife. BGS © UKRI.

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A butte, an isolated hill with steep sides, is a type landform created by erosion and weathering.

Utah Course, Monitor and Merrimac Butte area.
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Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, Utah, USA. Source: BGS © UKRI

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Impact craters

An impact crater, a depression formed by a collision of a large object with the Earth’s surface, is a type of impact landform.

An aerial view of a roughly circular crater in the desert of Arizona
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Meteor Crater, Arizona, USA. © NASA.

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A U-shaped valley is an example of a glacial landform, carved by slowly moving glaciers.

U-shaped valley
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Glencoe, Scotland, is a U-shaped valley. © Gil Cavalcanti, Wikimedia Commons.

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Ocean trenches

Deep oceanic trenches are a type of tectonic landform, formed where one tectonic plate is subducted beneath another.

A 3D model of the Puerto Rico Trench, with the Caribbean to the left shown in blue, the trench in thje middle shown in purple and the Atlantic plat to the right shown in blue
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The Puerto Rico Trench to the east of the Caribbean. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/USGS.

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Volcanic cones

A volcanic cone is the most recognisable volcanic landform, built from the materials erupted from a volcanic vent.

Mount Fuji - Tomáš Malík
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The volcanic cone of Mount Fuji, Japan. © Tomáš Malík / Pexels

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