26 Types of Geographical Relief and Their Characteristics

Mountains, beaches, marshes, capes, valleys… the Earth, the world in which we were born and that shelters us, is a rich and varied planet in which we can observe a lot of environments, landscapes and impressive places.


“Mountains, beaches, marshes, capes, valleys… the Earth, the world in which we were born and that shelters us, is a rich and varied planet in which we can observe a lot of environments, landscapes and impressive places.”

Within this wealth we can observe a large number of shapes and geographical features, caused by the movement of the tectonic plates and the elements that make up both the crust and the mantle and the core of the planet, as well as by the interaction between the earth and the waters. That is why throughout this article we will see the different types of geographic relief and its main characteristics.

What do we call geographical relief?

Before entering to consider the types of relief that exist, it is necessary to take into account in the first place what implies the idea or concept of relief at a geographical level. It is understood as relief the set of forms and levels, elevations and depressions existing in a specific object or element.

Taking into account the previous definition we can consider that the concept of geographical relief refers to the set of elements that are part of the structure of the planet and that shape the surface of the planet. This relief, which is studied by the discipline known as orography, arises from the interaction of the land with different types of agents: among them is the friction of tectonic plates, erosion caused by wind, water or living beings or the emission of organic or inorganic material by, for example, elements such as volcanoes.

The different types of relief on the surface

There are a great variety of different types of accidents and geographical reliefs in the world, both on land and sea. In this sense, below we will see some of the best known at surface level, in the part of the orography that is not covered by the waters.

1. Depressions

Within the geographical reliefs are considered depressions to the set of geographical features in which the surface presents a sharp decrease in height or collapse in relation to the situation of the rest of the environment, sometimes even below sea level.

2. Plains

It receives the name of plain a type of geographical relief that is characterized by not having any type of elevation or undulation but is relatively homogeneous in all its extension. They are at a similar height or a little higher than sea level and tend to originate from the accumulation of sediments after the waters recede.

3. Plateaus

Land extension that similar to the plains is characterized by being relatively flat, but in this case is located at high altitude. Often these are regions of eroded territory that are located or are formed in ridges or other elevations of similar terrain. While a plain is not more than a few hundred meters above sea level, a plateau can be thousands or in full mountain.

4. Valleys

The valleys are the type of geographic relief that appears between two mountainous formations, and that supposes a descent or depression of the land between both mountains. Generally they produce as a result of the erosion generated by fluvial or glacial courses. They can have very different forms depending on the type of erosion and the time it takes to receive it.

5. Dunes

Although when we speak of geographic relief we usually imagine rocky type elements, the truth is that we can not ignore the existence of a type of relief mainly generated by erosion and shaped by sand. This is the case of the dunes, elevations of the terrain generated by accumulations of sand and that may eventually disappear or modify its shape or position thanks to the action of forces such as wind.

6. Hills

Receive any of the aforementioned names the type of geographical relief formed by a slight elevation of the ground that usually does not exceed one hundred meters in height and whose slope is usually softer than that of a mountain. Even so, it is possible that they are steep.

7. Mountains

It receives the name of mount or mountain those elevations of the terrain that generally arises from the accumulation of rocky material that arises from the union of two tectonic plates (although also they can be formed by the accumulation of the emissions of a volcano, for example). They are characterized by their high altitude and by the fact of having a variable but high slope level, being able to distinguish a foot or base and a top or peak.

Although at a popular level it can be thought that the mountain is a small mountain, the truth is that they actually refer to the same concept except for the fact that while mountain is used to talk about an isolated elevation, the mountain usually refers to to one that is located among a group of them.

8. Cliff

It is considered as such that geographical feature in which the terrain is cut vertically, so that a sudden fall or fall appears in the form of abrupt depression in which two clearly differentiated levels can be observed. It can be seen, for example, at the mountain level, but also on the coast.

9. Saws

It is called as a mountain to a group or group of mountainous elevations that appear very close to each other and that generally have a very steep slope.

10. Mountain range

Mountain range is denominated to the type of geographical relief in which they appear a great quantity of mountains or linked mountainous elevations, habitually of greater altitude that in the case of the mountain range. They usually arise in the places where there has been the greatest shock and friction between the tectonic plates, rising the ground before the pressure of one against the other.

Main types of coastal and marine relief

Below we indicate a series of the main types of relief that we can find at sea level or in direct contact with it.

11. Beach

It receives the name of beach the geographic relief characterized to be the point of union between the terrestrial geography and the maritime one, which is at sea level. It is characterized by a relatively flat or flattened area with a variable slope in which the terrain is sandy or rocky due to the erosion caused by the waters and the rubbing of marine materials.

12. Island

We know as an island the type of geographic relief characterized by the presence of a fragment of emerged territory which is completely surrounded by water (not necessarily at sea level). In it can also appear different geographical features such as those discussed above.

13. Archipelago

It receives the name of archipelago the geographic formation consisting of a group of islands close to each other and often linked, although separated by bodies of water.

14. Peninsula

The term peninsula refers to an extension of land not submerged and part of the continental orography which is surrounded by water in all directions except for one part, which connects with the rest of the land.

15. Cape

It receives the name of corporal that earth mass that goes in direction in the sea beyond the rest of the surrounding land, which can have a variable size.

16. Bay

It is understood as such the type of relief in which the waters of the sea penetrate and occupy an area of ​​the earth, this water being surrounded by earth except for the end by which the water penetrates. It would be the reverse of the peninsula.

17. Gulf

We understand as such a geographical feature similar to the bay, but with the difference that it usually refers to concave areas in which the sea gains ground and that are generally surrounded by it except for a portion in which It is in contact with the sea or ocean. It is generally considered larger than the bay, although the concept is practically identical.

18. Cove or inlet

This type of geographic relief is conceptualized in the same way as the bay, with the exception that it usually has a circular shape and that the point where water enters and enters the land is a relatively narrow mouth.

19. Narrow

The narrows are geographical elements configured by bodies of water surrounded by land that act as a channel or bridge between two other water bodies, allowing the passage of the liquid element from one to another.

20. Estuary

We define estuary as the geographical region located at the mouth of a particularly large and broad river, forming a funnel-shaped area that is formed because the inflow of seawater slows the flow of fresh water from the river to later when there is a tide low allow its exit normally.

21. Delta

Geographic area that usually appears at the end of the course of a river, at its mouth, and that is characterized by a softening of the orography due to the deployment of sediments from the river.

The different types of underwater relief

Below we will show some of the main examples of types of geographical relief that can be found below sea level, all of them submerged.

1. Continental shelf

We know as a continental platform that region of the earth’s crust that corresponds to the terrain proper to the continent that serves as a base for the land emerging above the water level. It is therefore the part of the continents that is submerged

2. Continental slope or batial zone

Geographical relief that is characterized by the presence of a very pronounced inclination of the sea floor, being the part of the ground that slopes down from the continental shelf to the abyssal plain. It is between 200 and 4000 meters underwater.

3. Abyssal plains

We call abyssal plain to the part of the terrestrial orography that corresponds with the terrestrial surface located between 4000 and 6000 meters of depth, in which the solar light stops illuminating the land.

4. Abyssal graves

They are called abyssal pits those depressions that can be found in the abyssal plains, which are part of the so-called hadal zone of the ocean and in which high levels of pressure makes life difficult.

5. Underwater dorsal

We call underwater ridges to the set of mountain ranges that, unlike what happens with terrestrial ones, are located below sea level. Although generally we do not see them in our day to day, they have greater height than those of the surface.


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