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14 Different Types of Terrain

The word terrain is derived from the word terra, which means earth. In Geography, it refers to the horizontal and vertical slopes of land or the surface. Most people talk about terrain regarding slopes, elevation, or land orientation, all of which impact different aspects of our lives.

Terrains affect weather patterns, water distribution, and flow, as well as places of residence. Knowing about the different terrain types is fundamental in farming, aviation, soil conservation, and military tactics.

The study of terrain formation is called geomorphology, and terrains may be expressed in oriental features like slope, soil, and elevation. There are different terrains types, with the most common ones being valley, plateau, plain, and mountain terrains. Other terrains are oasis, hill, river, steppe, tundra, forest, marsh, and open terrains.

What Is the Importance Of Studying The Different Types Of Terrain?

Different physical features collaborate on the surface of the earth to form landforms. They are also known as terrains, resulting from various natural forces such as water, wind, ice, and shifting of tectonic plates over time.

Identifying the different types of terrain is fundamental in choosing a habitat and for agricultural purposes. The study of landscapes enables farmers to get educated about water flow, drainage features, and watersheds’ boundaries.

Studying terrains helps determine and discover the most suitable habitats for human settlement and activities such as transport, tourism, economics, industry, and agriculture.

Terrains also help us learn how best to conserve the soil, and historically, the study of terrains is vital in identifying weather patterns in extensive land tracts. The study of terrains helps identify weather patterns as the difference in elevation, and the terrain’s nature affects the precipitation and temperature levels.

The study of terrains is also vital in soil conservation efforts for agricultural and industrial purposes. The survey of terrains allows for contour plowing, which is essential to making any sloping land plausible.

When it comes to the role of terrains in the military, terrains’ study is impactful to help military forces develop strategies related to their offensive and defensive attacks during the war.

The forest and mountain terrains are most preferred for this purpose. Terrains affect aviation, too, especially for aircraft with low-flying routes and airport altitudes. It helps avoid accidents.

Different Types of Terrain

Canyon terrain

Canyons simply refer to big holes in the ground or earth that are found between such things as cliffs. A canyon is formed when water from large water bodies cuts through a hill or a mountain range. When compared to valleys, canyons are more in-depth, narrower, and steeper sides. This means that, if there is erosion from rivers or other weather conditions, a canyon is likely to be formed, especially if the river’s headwater and estuaries have different elevations. A canyon gorge in the ground is located between two cliffs, mostly but not always with rivers flowing through.

There are some canyons with water bodies such as rivers flowing through them, and others without. There are different types of canyons globally, found almost anywhere in North and South America, Africa, Europe, and throughout Asia. You can find canyons between cliffs and mountain peaks, and they can be open on only one side, forming box canyons. On the other hand, slot canyons have very smooth walls, and they are very narrow, and they are as a result of erosion and weathering. Other types of canyons in the world are submarine canyons and plateau canyons. Although canyons are sometimes mistaken for valleys, they are different types of terrains, and interestingly sometimes valleys have canyons in them!

Desert terrain

Deserts refer to dry terrains characterized by arid ground and sand and with very minimal precipitation. A desert is a habitable terrain for different plants, animals, and orgasms, but it doesn’t support much wildlife or plant life. Deserts are barren areas with little rainfall or snow, and they are large extensions of sand, hardened rocks, and earth. These lands are deserted due to their un-habitability, but they experience rainfall and sand storms every once in a while.

There is little or no vegetation in deserts, mostly due to water shortage, extreme soil, or salt poisoning. Although most deserts are believed to be hot, not all fit the criteria, such as Arctic area deserts, which experience moderate or chilly temperatures all year. A desert is a terrain that is deserted and uninhabited, and only plants and animals who have adapted to the arid conditions can survive there. Deserts can be classified as either dune or salt flats, and the climate leans towards the extremes. Some deserts have oil springs and indigenous vegetation, and they are capable of shrinking or expanding.

Deserts are classified into five categories, based on what causes the terrain to be dry, and although some deserts are made of dunes, others have rocks, mountains, and salt flats. There are subtropical, coastal, rain shadow, interior, and polar deserts. Subtropical deserts, for instance, are caused by the circulation configurations of air masses, while coastal deserts are a result of cold ocean currents.

Deserts are believed to be very arid and dry areas, but interestingly, the world’s largest desert happens to be the coldest as well. Antarctica is a polar desert that experiences little precipitation and is habitable by a few organisms. Polar deserts have a freezing and dry climate, and they contain large water quantities, which are mostly locked in ice sheets and glaciers most of the time.

Forest terrain

Forests are complete opposites of deserts, covering a vast area filled with trees, vegetation, and a variety of wildlife. Forests are almost always sparsely populated, but this doesn’t mean that there is no human life present in these terrains. Forests are covered with slim and tall trees and different kinds of vegetation, including ivy plans and vines, as well as some wildlife. They are categorized into temperate rainforests, jungles, temperate forests, and seasonally dry forests, depending on their climates and habitability.

Forests are mostly found in areas with more temperate climates, and they are reserved areas with protection using special laws. There are some forests with cabins, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they can be populated with people, and according to scientists, there are temperate, boreal, and tropical forests. Tropical forests are found in the equatorial regions and in the tropics and subtropics, while boreal forests are found throughout Siberia, North America, and Scandinavia. The temperatures in these boreal forests are below freezing, which makes this a perfect habitat for needle leaf plants.

Boreal forests play a vital role in the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this type of forest is one of the largest land biomes in the world. Temperate forests are characterized by four seasons, and they can be found throughout North America and Eurasia. These forests experience a lot of precipitation, which makes them ideal for fauna and flora.

Glacier terrain

A glacier refers to a vast mass of ice that continually moves under its own weight. Glaciers are types of terrains that stay consistent, and they are made up of snow, water, and rocks, surviving for many years. Glaciers are large in size, but they still retain their masses over extended periods, and they don’t change with years and time. Glaciers can sometimes cause glacial earthquakes, and over time, their frequency has increased due to global warming. Some of the regions with glacier instances in the world are such as Antarctica and Greenland.

Glaciers are slow-moving bodies of ice, and they are a result of snow layer compression. The movement of glaciers depends on gravity and pressure, and they are available in continental and alpine glacier categories. You can find continental glaciers in cold Polar regions and alpine glaciers in high mountains.

Hill terrain

A hill refers to a landform or a terrain that extends above the surrounding terrain, which means pieces of land that are below sea level and rise to a peak. Hills are comparable to mountains, only they are lower and less steep. They are formed when there is erosion or deposit of sediment, which can be covered in trees, vegetation-like, or a very grassy desert.

Hills are mostly found in areas ranging between flat plains and large mountains, and they are sometimes hard to tell apart from mountains. Locations with hills often experience transitions from flat plains to big mountains, and for agricultural purposes, hills are problematic to farmers. Hills are responsible for drainage problems as a result of soil erosion and plowing challenges, among other issues. Hills are habitable to such plants as grapes, and they range from Butte (a small isolated hill with a flat top and steep sides); Mesa (similar to butte but with horizontal strata); and Mima mounds.

Marsh terrain

Marshes refer to low-lying lands or terrains that are flooded in wet seasons and during high tides. Marshes are wetlands inundated by plant species, and the plants are more herbaceous than woody. Marshes are mostly found at the edges of water bodies such as lakes and streams, where they act as a transition between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. They are mostly made up of reeds, grasses, rushes, and low-lying shrubs. They remain water-clogged most of the time, and they can be generally classified based on their location and salinity, which are factors affecting the amount of plant and animal life found here.

Marshes are classified into three; freshwater, tidal, and salt marshes. Salt marshes are found in mid to high altitudes and along with areas of protected coastlines ranging from middle to high latitudes. Freshwater marshes are located mostly in North America, and they are the most diverse type of marsh in the world, including playa lakes, riverine wetlands, wet meadows, prairie potholes, and vernal pools. Freshwater tidal marshes are affected by ocean tides, and since the water is not saline, tidal marshes are more biodiverse compared to saltwater marshes.

There are other types of marshes, including those found on edges of very large rivers, and others which serve as suitable habitats for such animals as certain types of waterfowls. Marshes are generally found almost anywhere in the world, but a big percentage of wetlands have been destroyed over time by both natural and unnatural forces.

Mountain terrain

A mountain is not very different from a hill, but it has a much higher elevation compared. It can be used to refer to any large landform rising prominently above the land surrounding it, in the form of a peak, and in a limited area. Mountains are generally steep, and they are caused by volcanic activities and tectonic forces. Mountains have a good rise in elevation and are steeply rising grounds with a minimum height of 2.000 ft. The tallest mountain in the world is Mount Everest, with a height of 29,000 feet, which can be measured from the bottom to the summit’s top or based on the height above sea level.

When compared to hills, mountains are hare to climb as they are steeper and higher. They are usually very high compared to their surrounding areas, and they can be found both on land and in the oceans. They are formed as a result of tectonic movements, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and erosions of the surrounding areas as a result of water, wind, or ice. When tectonic plates collide and push land upwards over many years, mountains are formed and eventually shaped by water erosion and wind.

Oasis terrain

An oasis refers to an area in the desert that is fertile and with a source of freshwater. Oasis is located in dry and arid regions that are isolated. They are surrounded by either a spring, a small lake, or a pond making them habitable by animals and sometimes humans depending on the size. Due to their fertility, large-sized oasis support farming, and the periodical rain showers can sustain a natural oasis. The water from the rain showers is used by animals and birds as they migrate to sustain themselves in the dry and arid desert climate.

This isolated terrain of water bodies within a desert may span as far as 2.5 acres, and it stands out in the desert landscape. Oases vary in size, ranging from a cluster of palms surrounding a natural spring to a city with well-irrigated cropland. Despite oases being located in deserts, such crops as dates, cotton, citrus fruits, figs, wheat, and olives can grow and thrive well in this terrain.

Ocean terrain

Oceans refer to very large bodies of saline water covering most of the surface of the earth or a large portion of the planet. In the estimate, 70% of the surface of the earth is covered with oceans, which are very vital to life. Oceans affect different weather patterns, and ultimately, they influence the climate. Oceans are habitats to more than 230,000 known species, and as these terrains are largely unexplored, the number of species living there could be higher than the estimate.

The extra-terrestrial oceans are comprised of water and different elements and components, and they are different theories explaining how they are believed to have been formed. Extra-terrestrial oceans are believed to include some dwarf planets and natural satellites, and there is possible speculation that there are oceans existing in other places within the solar system.

Open terrain

Open terrains refer to flat areas of land devoid of any trees or anything that obstructs the view. Open terrains are basically areas where land is flat, and there are no such obstacles as buildings or trees, sometimes called open country or open ground. Open terrains are crucial, and they are used for a range of important functions like military maneuvers, and they include mainly farmlands and grasslands. The areas surrounding airports can also be termed as open terrains.

Open terrains don’t have to occur naturally, and lands that have been cleared of obstruction, such as landing strips for airports and fields for military functions, are considered open terrains. These terrains are used by the military for tactics and maneuvers because they are void of obstacles, and they are characterized by a lot of wind. As there are no buildings or tree obstacles, the win loading is high as there isn’t anything to break the wind.

River terrain

A river is a terrain consisting of a permanent water body of various sizes. Rivers include water bodies that can run seasonally, but the term is mostly used for more permanent bodies. A river begins with a standing body such as a stream and has many smaller tributaries that keep feeding it to form a bigger water body.

There are rivers which end in wetlands and others which go underground and are never seen again. Rivers are very reliable as water sources and for irrigation, and they have brought together societies today. Rivers have continually gained popularity in different cities and locations for different uses and reasons.

Swamp terrain

A swamp refers to a terrain containing both soli land and shallow water bodies. Different types of vegetation cover swamps, and they are habitats to such animals as leeches and mosquitoes. Swamps move very slowly, and they are quite hard to navigate through. Swamps can thrive in an ideal climate, and depending on their location, they may contain small trees, tall grasses, reeds and sedges, myrtles and heather, and trees protruding from the water. Rice is the only edible plant that can survive and grow in a swamp.

The reeds growing in swampy terrains are used to make craft items, and sometimes people fish from these swamps. Swamps can generally be very dangerous because of the animals living in them and because most of them have quicksand and similar fixtures that cause drowning. Swamps are constantly and almost always wet, which poses skin problem threats to people who are not used to them. Swampy terrains are characterized by very wet and muddy ground, and as there are usually trees growing in swamps, they are a forested wetland.

There are two types of swamps, saltwater, and freshwater swamps, with the former being found in coastal areas and the latter in inland areas. Swamps are generally named depending on the types of trees present in them, such as hardwood swamps. Swamps vary in size, and they can be found in every continent but Antarctica! Most people lack the desire to get up close to swamps, but these terrains can be quite beautiful. All you need to do is learn about them and be cautious around avoiding accidental falling and drowning.

Tundra terrain

Tundra is derived from a Russian word meaning treeless mountain track. A tundra refers to a type of biome terrain characterized by low temperatures and short growing seasons. Due to these characteristics, there isn’t much growth of trees in the tundra, and most of the vegetation consists of lichens, dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and some trees that are scattered. Tundra terrains are usually flat, treeless, and cold, and they often comprise of frozen wastelands.

There are three different types of tundra; alpine tundra, arctic tundra, and Antarctic tundra. Tundras contain an ecological boundary known as an ecotone or a tree line, which is used as a demarcation of the tundra and the forest. Arctic tundra is mostly found within Northern Alaska, and in Canada, Alpine tundra is mostly found in high altitudes, which are too windy and cold for tree growth. In contrast, the Antarctic tundra is located in Antarctica and the surrounding islands. Tundra terrains are typical on mountain tops where the climate is cold and windy, and rainfall is scarce. Tundras are covered in snow and ice mostly. Still, you can find wildflowers during summer, and due to the harsh climates of some Tundra regions, some regions have very minimal human activity.

Valley terrain

Valleys are low areas found between hills and mountains and are usually longer than wide. Valleys are formed due to glacier and river actions over a million years, and they are classified depending on their formations. Some are formed as a result of glaciers, and others due to flowing rivers.

 Often but not always, a valley includes a river running through it, and it is sometimes referred to as a depression or a dale. There are V-shaped and U-shaped valleys and others that fall between the two categories. The valleys’ different types include box valleys, hanging valleys, hollows, glacial valleys, tunnel valleys, rift valleys, and meltwater valleys.

Box valleys have steep sides and are leveled with wide bases, glacial valleys formed due to glacial activity, and hollows are small valleys. Hanging valleys are associated with U-shaped valleys, and the Meltwater valleys, formed by glacial meltwaters, are found in North Central Europe. Tunnel valleys are formed by erosion, while rift valleys are due to the expansion of the earth’s surface due to underground tectonic activity.