Earth Science for Kids
What is a mountain?
A mountain is a geological landform that rises above the surrounding land. Typically a mountain will rise at least 1,000 feet above sea level. Some mountains exceed 10,000 feet above see level with the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest, rising 29,036 feet. Small mountains (below 1,000 feet) are usually called hills.
How are mountains formed?
Mountains are most often formed by movement of the tectonic plates in the Earth's crust. Great mountain ranges like the Himalayas often form along the boundaries of these plates.
Tectonic plates move very slowly. It can take millions and millions of years for mountains to form.
Types of Mountains
There are three main types of mountains: fold mountains, fault-block mountains, and volcanic mountains. They get their names from how they were formed.
- Fold mountains - Fold mountains are formed when two plates run into each other or collide. The force of the two plates running into each other causes the Earth's crust to crumple and fold. Many of the world's great mountain ranges are fold mountains including the Andes, Himalayas, and the Rockies.
- Fault-block mountains - Fault-block mountains are formed along faults where some large blocks of rock are forced upwards while others are forced down. The higher area is sometimes called a "horst" and the lower a "graben" (see the picture below). The Sierra Nevada Mountains in the western United States are fault-block mountains.
- Volcanic mountains - Mountains that are caused by volcanic activity are called volcanic mountains. There are two main types of volcanic mountains: volcanoes and dome mountains. Volcanoes are formed when magma erupts all the way to the surface of the Earth. The magma will harden on the Earth's surface, forming a mountain. Dome mountains are formed when a large amount of magma builds up below the Earth's surface. This forces the rock above the magma to bulge out, forming a mountain. Examples of volcanic mountains include Mount Fuji in Japan and Mount Mauna Loa in Hawaii.
- Arete - A narrow ridge formed when two glaciers erode opposite sides of a mountain.
- Cirque - A bowl shaped depression formed by the head of a glacier usually at the foot of a mountain.
- Crag - A mass of rock that projects outward from a rock face or cliff.
- Face - The side of a mountain that is very steep.
- Glacier - A mountain glacier is formed by compacted snow into ice.
- Leeward side - The leeward side of a mountain is opposite the windward side. It is protected from the wind and rain by the mountain.
- Horn - A horn is a sharp peak formed from multiple glaciers.
- Moraine - A collection of rocks and dirt left behind by glaciers.
- Pass - A valley or path between mountains.
- Peak - The highest point of a mountain.
- Ridge - A long narrow top of a mountain or series of mountains.
- Slope - The side of a mountain.
- A mountain may be home to many different biomes including temperate forest, taiga forest, tundra, and grassland.
- Around 20 percent of the Earth's surface is covered with mountains.
- There are mountains and mountain ranges in the ocean. Many islands are actually the tops of mountains.
- The elevation above 26,000 feet is called the "death zone" because there isn't enough oxygen to support human life.
- The scientific study of mountains is called orology.
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