The surface of our planet is dotted with several fascinating geographical features. Many of these features – or types of landforms – can take on wildly different structures.
For instance, you wouldn’t confuse buttes – the jagged pillars that jut majestically out from the dusty mounds in a desert – with the elegance of a coastline or the raw beauty of a fjord or valley. Coastal, desert and glacier landforms possess great variety, although they are made by the same chemical and mechanical processes which occur in nature every day.
The landforms of a beach or coastline are where you can see the beautiful relationship between the sea and the land. Not every coast is the same, however. Some beaches are filled with soft sand, while others are built from tough rock, constantly weathering the crash of the waves.
Beaches are the most popular type of coastal landform, but they’re not the only type by far. Another common example is an estuary – an area near the mouth of a river in which freshwater and seawater mix to form brackish water. A related landform is the delta – the triangular opening through which a river empties its contents into the sea.
The most prominent force that shapes coastal landforms is the movement of water – waves, tides, and the passage of river water all gradually erode rocks and other materials.
Now let’s look at landforms that occur in a place that seldom experiences water at all – deserts.
Because sandy dunes are the predominant landform here, a desert is usually seen as a desolate and empty wasteland of sand. This is not entirely the case – rivers and streams cross many deserts, and the areas surrounding these water sources spring into lush oases where plants can thrive. The Nile is the most popular example of this.
Vast amounts of sand particles are carried by the winds. When these particles collide with rock over thousands of years, it erodes their material to form unique features – including mushroom rocks (or rock pedestals) and jardangs.
Too much sand can be swept away from a particular area, revealing the solid layer of packed stones beneath. This layer is also known as the desert pavement.
Glacial landforms are shaped by the movement of gargantuan bodies of ice through land over several millennia. Glaciers are prone to melt and move, and the grinding, scraping and plucking against rocks causes erosion. They may create long grooves, or striations, across a surface, or make small valleys wider and broader as the glacier pushes itself through them.
A glacier’s constant movement also means that it is prone to accumulating sediments and small rock particles. When these are deposited once again into the soil, they are known as till. Large amounts of till create landforms known as moraines along a glacier’s path.
Other glacial landforms include the outwash plain, an area composed of transported silt; long hills known as drumlins; and kettle lakes, in which ice bodies melt over till, forming a depression that can become filled with water.