Plateaus, also known as high plains or table lands, are raised landforms, usually less than 1,000 ft. above sea level. Unlike the mountains, they do not have peaks, and their top is a plain. One side of the plateaus is steep while the others may have mountains or a sea. Depending upon their surroundings or formation, they have various names. The plateaus surrounded by mountains are known as Intermontane. The plateaus having mountains on one side and plains or sea on the other sides are known as Piedmont plateaus. The plateaus which do not have mountains on any side are called Continental plateaus. Plateaus formed as an outcome of a volcanic eruption are known as volcanic plateaus, and those which emerged as a result of erosion of the soil by the flow of rivers are known as dissected plateaus. While many plateaus are large and famously known by their specific names, there are many others which are known by their types only and not by any specific names.
1. The Tibetan Plateau
The Tibetan Plateau, also known as Qinhai-Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan Plateau, is an Intermontane plateau located in central Asia. It covers most of the Autonomous Tibetan Region, Qinghai Province of Western China, and a part of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. It is 1,000 km. north to south and 2,000 km. east to west. Its area is 2,500,000 square kilometers. At an average, its elevation is 4,800 meters, making it the highest and largest plateau in the world. And due to this elevation, it is sometimes also known as the ‘Roof of the World.’ It is surrounded by mountains to the south by the Himalayan Range, to the northeast by the Qilian Range, and to the west by the Karakoram Range. To the west of the plateau is a forested area and mountainous headwaters of the Yangtze, Salween, and Mekong Rivers. The northern border of the plateau has a broad and steep slope with sharp decline from 5,000 meters to 1,500 meters. Endangered species of the plateau include the Tibetan and Saiga antelopes, wild yak, and argali sheep.
2 The Columbia Plateau
The Columbia Plateau is located in parts of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho states of the U.S. It is bordered by the Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains and divided by the Columbia River. This plateau has been formed as the result of volcanic eruptions with a consequent coating of basalt lava; therefore, it is categorized as a Flood Basalt Plateau. Geologists opine that one of the largest flood basalts occurring 10 to 15 million years ago coated 63,000 square miles of the Earth’s surface with 1.8 km. thick basalt and created this plateau. Washington’s part of the plateau includes many cities which are: Davenport, Kennewick, Moses, Pasco, Pullman, Richland, Spokane, Walla Walla, Yakima, and Goldendale. Oregon’s cities in the Columbian Plateau include: Hermiston, Hood River, and Pendleton
3. The Antarctic Plateau
The Antarctic Plateau, also known as the Polar Plateau, is located in Central Antarctica and covers approximately an area of 1,000 km. in diameter. Its elevation is about 3,000 meters. The plateau includes part of the South Pole and the Amundsen Scott Station. The plateau was explored by Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton who crossed it in 1911. He named it the King Edward VII Plateau in honor of the U.K. king. It is one of the coldest areas of the world, and its environment is extremely prohibitive for living beings. Except the research scientists, their laboratory animals, and the microbes which are the usual inhabitants on human skin or the digestive system, there is no life on this plateau.
4. The Colorado Plateau
The Colorado Plateau is the largest plateau in America, and it covers 337,000 square kilometers in area. It includes Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. It is divided by the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. It was formed by the rise of land millions of years ago at the rate of one millimeter annually along with the erosion of soil at the same rate by the Colorado River. It is located at an elevation of 2,450 meters above sea level. To the south of the plateau is the steep Mogollon Rim. It is bordered by the San Francisco Mountains to the north. The plateau is known for the groundwater which is under positive pressure and causes the emergence of springs called Artesian wells.
5. The Deccan Plateau
The Deccan Plateau is a large plateau which forms most of the southern part of India. In the north, it is 100 meters elevated while its elevation is more than 1 kilometer in the south. It includes eight states of India. It is bordered by two mountain ranges, the Western Ghats and the Eastern Ghats. The plateau includes the Deccan Traps which is the largest volcanic feature on Earth. Made of multiple basalt layers or lava flows, the Deccan Traps covers 500,000 square kilometers in area. The Deccan Traps are known for containing some unique fossils like that of the toothed frog, Indobatrachus.
6. Table Mountain
Table Mountain is a plateau which is an important landmark of Cape Town in South Africa. It is located at the northern end of the Sandstone Mountain Range. To its south is the part of the range known as the Back Table. It is a level plateau measuring 3 kilometers from side to side. The plateau is a tourist attraction, and its importance can be assessed by the fact that it has been shown in the official Cape Town city flag in the form of a white silhouette against a blue-and-green background. Some parts of the Table Plateau are protected and are listed as a World Heritage on account of having unique flora and some critically endangered species out of more than 2,200 plant species found at the plateau.
7. The Potohar Plateau
The Potohar Plateau is located in the northeastern part of Pakistan. The plateau is bordered by the Jehlum River to the east, by the Indus River to the west, by the Margalla Hills and the Kala Chitta Range to the north, and by the Salt Range to the south. The plateau encompasses four districts which are: Jehlum, Chakwal, Rawalpindi, and Attock. It is the location of the main oil fields of Pakistan. Archaeological finds from this plateau include 14-million-year-old fossils of: gazelles, rhinoceros, crocodiles, giraffes, and rodents. Some of them are displayed in the Natural History Museum, Islamabad. A location of an ancient city on this plateau known as Taxila is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rohtas Fort located on this plateau is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.
8. The Atherton Tableland
The Atherton Tableland is located in Queensland, Australia. It covers an area of 32,000 square kilometers and has an elevation of 500 to 1,280 meters. The plateau is quite fertile by virtue of its volcanic origin. Its climate and environmental conditions are suitable for dairy farming. The Barron River flows across the plateau, and a small, hydroelectric power station, called Tinaroo, is located near it. John Atherton explored the plateau in 1875 and settled near the city named after him. It had a mining potential for gold and tin. The plateau is home to many trees like Maple, Walnut, White Beech, and Red Tulip Oak.
9. The Hardangervidda Plateau
The Hardangervidda Plateau is one of the largest plateaus in Europe located at a distance of about 200 km to the west of Oslo in the Hardanger region of western Norway. The plateau covers about 6,500 square kilometers in area and has an average elevation of 1,100 meters. It is best known as home to the largest number of reindeer in Europe. Northwest of the plateau is bordered by one of the largest glaciers of Norway. Salient features of the plateau include the hat-shaped summit known as Harteigen Peak with an elevation of 1,690 meters occupying a central position. It is visible from almost all sides of the plateau.
10. The Brazilian Plateau
The Brazilian Plateau is a large plateau that covers almost half of Brazil. The Brazilian Highland is divided into three plateaus. The Atlantic Plateau located at the eastern coast of Brazil was formerly covered by Atlantic Rainforest with its rich bio-diversity, and it is reduced to only 7.5 percent of the original forests. The Southern Plateau is known as the Purple Land due to the lava flows. The Central Plateau is mostly a sedimentary formation. Various environmental conditions of all three plateaus form the habitat of a large number of animal and plant species.
A plateau is neither a plain nor a mountain; it is a little higher than a plain and lower than mountains, though it contains the characteristics of both. The way a plateau is formed reveals a lot of history, geography, and geology. Plateaus are, in fact, documentaries of changes which the crust of the Earth undergoes from time to time and, as such, the plateaus seem to be custodians of ancient fossils, minerals, forests, and biodiversity.