Landforms, Hey!: Crash Course Kids #17.1

Look outside your window for a sec, and you’ll probably see some buildings and streets, maybe telephone poles, hopefully some trees in there too. A lot of the world that we live in has been shaped by people, and hey, no complaints, because I’m plenty comfortable right here. But people aren’t the only ones moving things around and shaping our world. Wind, rain, and other elements do it all the time, making shapes out of the Earth we call landforms. So what are some kinds of landforms, and how are they made? First, remember that the Earth is made of several spheres, including the hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and geosphere. The solid part of the Earth, or geosphere, may look pretty stable, but it’s always changing. Weathering and erosion by wind and water are constantly reshaping what our planet’s surface looks like, and even if it takes so long that we don’t usually notice it, it’s happening. Let’s check out our map to explore what kinds of landforms there are around the world. Mountains are probably some of the most well known landforms. Basically, they’re just really big hills with steep sides that stretch way above the surface of the Earth.

Many mountains are formed when large plates, or pieces of the Earth’s surface, collide and are forced upwards. The low spaces in between? We call those valleys. But if mountains don’t ‘peak’ your interest, how about plateaus? Plateaus are also tall landforms, but unlike mountains, which tend to have the pointy tops we know as peaks, plateaus have flat tops. Plateaus come in lots of sizes. If they’re medium-sized, for example, they’re called mesas, which is the Spanish word for table, which is highly appropriate, since plateaus kind of look flat and long — like tables. And if they’re smallish, they’re called buttes. No matter what they’re called, or what size they are, plateaus can form in lots of different ways. Sometimes they’re caused by the erosion, or wearing away of mountains, like by water or really big pieces of ice. Other plateaus are made by magma, which is really hot melted liquid Earth below the surface. When magma swells up below the surface but can’t break through, it can push up a flat chunk of land, leaving that table like formation behind.

And speaking of magma, let’s go to the Pacific Ocean on our map for a good look at the most explosive landforms: Volcanoes. These landforms are found where the surface of the Earth is relatively thin. When magma breaks through the surface, or erupts, that hot liquid rock gets a new name: Lava. And a new volcano is born. Hot stuff coming through! ‘Hot’ is definitely a good term to describe another kind of land form: Deserts. Deserts are landforms that lose more water to air than they get through rain, snow, or other kinds of moisture. The world’s largest desert is the Sahara in Northern Africa, where daytime temperatures can climb to a sweltering 55°C! Just a wee bit out of my personal comfort zone, but then again so are the cold temperatures in Antarctica, which is actually considered to be a desert too. Penguins in the desert! Who knew it, right? Time to set sail for two more kinds of landforms: Islands and Deltas.

You’ll find deltas at the mouth, or end, of rivers where they meet the ocean. Deltas are formed when dirt and other debris that are washed down the river accumulate, or build up, to form a piece of land. Islands, on the other hand, can form any number of ways. They might come from the cooled lava of underwater volcanoes, or from a whole lot of dirt sand in pieces of coral building up due to ocean currents. Islands can even form by breaking off from a larger piece of land! So they can form in lots of ways, but as long as it’s surrounded on all sides by water, it’s an island. In our travels today, we took a look at lots of different kinds of landforms, which are natural features of the Earth’s surface. Landforms can stretch high above the Earth’s surface, like mountains, plateaus, or mesas, be created in or by water like deltas and islands, or even be dry like deserts.

So remember these things the next time you step outside. Underneath and beyond and all around the things that people have made, there are landforms millions of years in the making. .

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