Know your mountain terminology : THE BASICS

FROM SCIENCE CLARIFIED : A mountain is any landmass on Earth's surface that rises abruptly to a great height in comparison to its surrounding landscape. By definition, a mountain rises 1,000 feet (305 meters) or more above its surroundings and has steep sides meeting in a summit that is much narrower in width than the mountain's base. Any highland that rises no higher than 1,000 feet (305 meters) above its surroundings, has a rounded top, and is less rugged in outline than a mountain is considered a hill. High hills at the base of mountains are known as foothills.

Mountains cover approximately one-fifth of Earth's land surface. Although rare, a mountain can exist singly, such as Mount Kilimanjaro in northeast Tanzania. Most mountains, however, occur as a group, called a mountain range. An example of a mountain range is the Sierra Nevada, which extends for about 400 miles (643 kilometers) in eastern California. A group of mountain ranges that share a common origin and form is known as a mountain system. The Sierra Madre, which arises just south of the U.S. border and extends south, is Mexico's chief mountain system. A group of mountain systems is called a mountain chain. The Pyrenees forms a mountain chain in southwest Europe between Spain and France. Finally, a complex group of mountain ranges, systems, and chains is called a mountain belt or cordillera (pronounced kor-dee-YARE-ah). The North American Cordillera runs from Alaska to Guatemala and includes all of the mountains and elevated plateaus in that vast region.

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