Typically defined as a vertical rock formation that has formed alongside a sea, cliffs are simply extraordinary wonders of nature. Some of the most extraordinary traits about cliffs, generally speaking, is that they are capable of sustaining various plant and animal life, although animal life is limited to birds, reptiles, and amphibians.
As for the plants that typically thrive in this particular type of environment, known species include various mosses, trees, shrubs, and the like. Another noteworthy fun fact is that while the ordinary cliff is formed vertically, there are cliffs that have been formed horizontally. In fact, the highest known cliffs are those formed under the sea.
The purpose of this article is to further discuss the various types of cliffs that include:
Also, included in this article will be a short detailed list of the highest cliffs as well as answered questions.
This section will go into further detail as to what the different types of cliffs are. However, before the specifics are discussed, it is worth mentioning a couple of noteworthy aspects of a cliff as it pertains to its architecture. Overall, a cliff is made up of three core parts: the edge, the pediment, and the face.
The edge, of course, is located at the top of the cliff while the pediment (or base) is at the bottom of the cliff. The middle represents the face of the cliff. Furthermore, cliffs can also be defined as cliffs located on high banks and are defined by a more rounded cliff face.
These cliff types can be found in places that overlook almost any body of water. Aside from natural cliffs, there are also roadcuts that are human-made and are also defined by a steep and rocky face. These types aren’t the same as a natural cliff but, because of their similarities, they are worth mentioning.
Table of Contents
- 1. Limestone cliffs
- 2. Chert cliffs
- 3. Sandstone cliffs
- 4. Igneous cliffs
- 5. Unconsolidated cliffs
- 6. Chalk cliffs
- 7. Granite cliffs
- 8. Basalt cliffs
- Top 5 Highest Cliffs in the World
- 1. Trango Towers
- 2. Auyan-tepui
- 3. Mitre Peak
- 4. Thor Peak
- 5. The Amphitheatre
Commonly found in areas such as the Lakes Michigan and Huron, these limestone cliffs have been gravely exposed to erosion, particularly in areas where the edge and base of the cliff reside. This is where the majority of all organic material lives. Here, the little-known existing plant life is unable to thrive due to the harsh conditions that include wind, ice, and sunshine.
Furthermore, as a result of accumulated moisture, it is also the cause of plant longevity. An additional mention here is that the existing soil is typically weak and consists of decaying roots that once lived along the cliff’s cracks and crevices.
When it comes to the plant life that attempts to weather the storm, some commonly known species include various ferns, shrubs, and trees, along with the occasional rare plant that may grow. Various wildlife has also been known to roam the cracks and crevices of the limestone cliff, although these come in the form of bats and various species of snake.
Native to places such as Southwest and Central Missouri, chert cliffs are known to be as tall as 80 feet high. While they are best characterized by crystalline-like properties similar to those of quartz, chert is a hard and tough type of rock. However, despite its tough personality, Chert’s curvy conchoidal fracture is smooth. Furthermore, this rock type is so tough that it doesn’t erode nor can it be penetrated.
During the formation stage, the microcrystals are found in silicon deoxidize. Thus, the transformation of irregularly-shaped nodules occurs. The most common Chert formations take place along streams as well as rocky ledges found in valleys but are also known to be found around ravines.
One additionally, noteworthy mention here is if numerous nodules form together, layers within the sedimentary mass are not only created but the formation becomes chemically based. This particular type of cliff and rock classification has been deemed extremely rare.
Commonly found along the upper western Peninsula as well as parts of the lower southern Peninsula, sandstone cliffs are just as affected by erosion and the elements. As a result, the little bit of soil that resides in and around this particular type of cliff is forced to scarcely live in the cliff’s cracks and crevices.
Here is where decaying roots and plant debris also reside. When it comes to the little-known vegetation and plant life, various species are restricted to the cliff face where the bedrock meets the cliff’s upper edge. Here, various plant life comes in the form of trees, bushes, hairy hawkweed, and wild strawberries.
Ferns and vines also grow along the face of this particular cliff. Additionally, although fairly rare, various wildlife has been known to make this cliff type their home. Species include common ravens and raptors as well as Merlin and the bald eagle.
Typically located where divergent plate boundaries exist, igneous rocks surround oceanic plates. Generally speaking, igneous rocks are formed from solidified crystallization, thus creating magma and lava, although lava forms when magma has risen to the surface.
That said, there are two different igneous groups that are worth discussing at this juncture. The first group is known as Extrusive. Simply put, this means that this type of rock formation is volcanic. This happens when magma has erupted, allowing the lava to cool down by the time it reaches the surface. Extrusive examples include obsidian, pumice, and andesite. The second group of igneous rocks is known as intrusive, meaning plutonic.
This occurs when the chambers of rock have cooled and solidified while magma is still in the rock. Because the overall cooling process of magma is slow, it takes mineral grains a long time to grow, resulting in large, clear crystals.
Best defined as a rock formation that has not been assigned any classification, unconsolidated rocks are basically equivalent to the bottom feeders of a cliff’s base. There is no firmness nor coherences to the formation but it consists of sand, clay, decaying rock.
This rock formation type is typically native to areas along the Mississippi River and, especially northern Missouri. Generally speaking, unconsolidated rock formations can commonly be found in streams and rivers. Examples of congregated rock formations for this specific classification include granule to boulder-sized fragments with a specific range of particle size.
Although considered a bit of a complex process during the course of its formation, chalk is basically created from the ooze of marine life organisms that have died and have sunk to the bottom. Once the remains have been washed ashore, chalk is formed from the ooze of the remains.
Chalk deposits can be commonly found in various places throughout the world and, as a result, have formed many noteworthy cliffs (discussed later). That said, the majority of this particular chalk formation can mostly be found in the indigenous lands of western Europe where chalk clings have been eroded from waves that have washed ashore at the cliff’s vertical joint, which is the weakest plane at its base.
Furthermore, the created chalk formation’s main element comes from silica with the final result being diatomite. One known chalk variant comes from another type of cliff: limestone.
Labeled as a morphed igneous rock, granite dates all the way back to the Precambrian Era more than 600 million years ago. Generally speaking, this particular cliff type is exposed to elements such as ice, and bedrock exfoliation. However, other conditions like wind and sunshine destroy all viable plant life.
While these types of cliffs are commonly seen in places like Ontario and Wisconsin, the cliffs only allow for limited organic soil to keep plantlife somewhat healthy. This form of organic soil is made up of decaying roots as well as varying plant-based material found in the cracks, ledges, and crevices of the cliff.
The most commonly found wildlife here is limited to raptors and common ravens, while it is rare to see varied species such as Merlin and bald eagles. A wide range of varied vegetation and plantlife includes trees, shrubs, common juniper, blueberries, and honeysuckle. Pine drops are rarely discovered.
One of the final types of cliff formations that will be discussed in this article is basalt rock. This is an igneous rock type and, as discussed in detail previously, can either be volcanic or plutonic. In this case, however, this type of rock appears to favor the volcanic path. More often than not, basalt rock can be characterized by a dark color and fine grain features.
Furthermore, this rock type typically resides along the surface of the Earth. In fact, this rock type is the most known to the Earth’s surface versus that of any other rock type or formation. Additionally, the most common environments where basalt rocks were formed are near oceanic locations such as divergent boundaries and hotspots.
The divergent formations took place when hot rocks from the convection currents as the boundaries pulled away from each other. Opposite are the hotspots that come up through the mantle along with the Earth’s core.
As previously defined in the previous section of this article, a cliff is nothing more than a steep slope made from rock-based material. Rather limestone, sandstone, chalk, or granite cliffs are ultimately formed vertically due to the process of erosion.
Furthermore, because these vertical wonders of the world are among some of the most amazing and breathtaking sights to see, the main question is where the journey begins. As previously discussed, there are many different types of cliffs that range in all different kinds of materials.
Each cliff has its own specific architecture, traits, and features and also lends itself to various plant life, wildlife, and even various vegetation. Fun fact: of all the tallest cliffs located throughout the world, the steepest cliffs are located under the sea and are known as oceanic trenches. Additionally, sea cliffs are deemed as works in progress due to the ever-changing height formed through erosion. Ultimately, it all depends on where the destination is.
Located in northern Pakistan, the Trango Towers are known as the world’s tallest cliffs, measuring at nearly 21,000 feet tall. The mountain is made from granite and is deemed extremely difficult to climb. Furthermore, one of its key features along the eastern point is the extremely dangerous vertical drop. The entire cliff is located directly on a ridge that lies just northwest-southeast of the Trango Glacier.
As it pertains to climbing this group of mammoth rock formations, there are many noteworthy events on record. The first successful climbing attempt took place in 1977 where ice ramps and gullies were conquered, landing the climbing group on the upper south face.
Other attempts have been recorded by climbing the Trango Nameless Tower 10 years later with the use of two routes. Pop culture has also recognized Trango Towers as it was mentioned in the 2015 movie Point Break as well as referenced in the TV show The Good Wife and the video game, Final Fantasy XII.
Deemed as the most visited cliff out of any cliff, the Auyan-tepui is definitely the largest but not measured to be the tallest. Located in Venezuela, the total measurement comes in at a range between 5,200 and 8,040 feet. The summit measures roughly 258 sq. miles and the slope measures roughly 280 sq. miles.
One key feature of this popular cliff is the Angel Falls, with a 3,212 fit drop and an uninterrupted fall of 2,648 feet, 19 times farther than that of Niagra Falls. Other features represented here include Devil’s Canyon and an extensive cave system.
The name of this mountain comes from Auyan Massif and was first recognized in 1933 when a bush pilot seeking gold ore had crashed his small airplane on top of Te-pui and had no other choice but to hike his way down. The hike took 11 days. There is also a lot of flora, birds, and amphibians, and reptiles around the cliff.
Located in New Zealand, the Mitre Peak is named after a Captain who thought the mountain looked like the miter headgear worn by Christian bishops. The mountain itself measures roughly 5,600 feet. The main feature of this mountain is the five grouped peaks that, when looked at certain angles, make it look as though there is only one peak.
The mountain is popular thanks to the many visitors it gets, although hikers typically prefer to hike at night time. Speaking of climbing, the challenge level is set to difficult on this mountain and attempts to conquer the mountain began as early as the early 1880s, when a pair of climbers reached the crest with no coats or equipment and very little food.
It is said that they even withstood some bad weather on the descent back to civilization. The most recent climbing attempt of this particular mountain occurred in 1914.
Standing well over 5,000 feet above sea level, mount Thor is located in Canada. More specifically, it is located on Baffin Island in Auyuittuq National Park. This particular cliff features a vertical drop of 4, 101 feet and an overhanging angle of 15 degrees. Mount Thor, named after the Norse god of thunder, is a popular destination for climbers and campers alike.
Designated areas are provided for each, with climbers getting a specifically designated area at the northern base of the cliff. Furthermore, mount Thor features a granite formation, making it a definite challenge to do any type of climbing. This cliff is considered to be part of the Arctic Cordillera mountain range.
Since the late 1960s, there have been a couple of attempts to climb to the top of this gigantic mountain. Both early attempts were deemed successful, with the more recent ascent successfully completed in 2012. One successful climb was completed in 1998.
Located in South Africa, the Amphitheatre measures 4,000 feet tall with a face known as the Amphitheatre, a little over 3 miles long. Furthermore, the length measuring from the highest point to the valley floor measures 6,000 feet. Here is where many photos are taken by photography enthusiasts from all over.
Aside from the amazing cliff face, another major feature of this cliff is the Tugela Falls, which has a 3,100-foot drop. Furthermore, this cliff also features not one but two hiking trails that extend 8,200 feet above sea level. The falls are deemed as the overall highlight of this particular cliff.
Outside of all the naturistic stats, features, and highlights, the Amphitheatre was shown in the 1964 war film Zulu in addition to the site where the British field hospital was located on Rorke’s Drift near the Tugela River and featured the Amphitheatre in the background.
How are cliffs formed?
Cliffs are formed through a process known as erosion. Along with this comes the weathering of the rock formation due to the elements such as wind and rain. Erosion causes the cliffs to become vertical, although this isn’t always the case.
How are sea cliffs formed?
When it comes to the formation of sea cliffs, the process is slightly different, although erosion still plays a role. Here, formation happens over time when erosive waves continually hit the coastline and form a notch, beginning the formation process.
What are the most famous cliffs?
One of the most famously known cliffs in the world is the white cliffs of Dover, located in England. That said, there are many other famous cliffs, which include the Bunda cliffs in Australia, Kalaupapa cliffs in Hawaii, as well as the Cliffs of Moher.
In conclusion, there are a wide variety of differing cliff types. However, the overall formation is pretty much the same in terms of erosion and weathering being the core elements that ignite the process of creating these vertical mammoth rock formations.
Rather than sandstone, limestone, granite, or chalk, there are countless cliffs that are popular throughout the world. Some of these famous cliffs (some that have had successful climbs recorded include the White Cliffs of Dover, the Bunda Cliffs, Mount Thor, and many more.
Furthermore, many of these cliffs are capable of sustaining some form of plant life, wildlife, and even small amounts of vegetation despite being limited to poor soil traits. Nevertheless, the views are definitely breathtaking and should most definitely be experienced.