An escarpment is an area of the Earth where elevation changes suddenly. Escarpment usually refers to the bottom of a cliff or a steep slope. (Scarp refers to the cliff itself.)

Escarpments separate two level land surfaces. For example, an escarpment could be the area separating the lower parts of the coast from higher plateaus. An escarpment also usually indicates two different types of land, such as the area on a rocky beach where tall cliffs become rocky sand.

One side of an escarpment could be rock from one geologic era, while the other side of the escarpment could be rock from a different geologic era.

Escarpments are formed by one of two processes: erosion and faulting.

Erosion creates an escarpment by wearing away rock through wind or water. One side of an escarpment may be eroded more than the other side. The result of this unequal erosion is a transition zone from one type of sedimentary rock to another. One example is the Niagara Escarpment, which runs in an arc from the U.S. state of New York, through the Canadian province of Ontario, and down to the U.S. state of Illinois. All along the Niagara Escarpment, hard, resistant rock sat on top of soft rock. As wind and water eroded the soft rock underneath, the hard rock tumbled down, creating cliffs and escarpments. The most dramatic example of this unequal erosion is the waterfalls at Niagara Falls.

The other process by which escarpments are formed is faulting. Faulting is movement of the Earths top layer, or crust, along a crack called a fault. The same process often results in earthquakes. Faulting creates escarpments as it moves pieces of the Earth around. The Elgeyo Escarpment, part of Kenyas Great Rift Valley, was formed by faulting millions of years ago. The faulting that resulted in the Elgeyo Escarpment turned seabeds into nearly vertical cliffs.

Escarpments are found on every continent, even Antarctica.

escarpment
Wavy escarpment in Australia.

Rupes
Earth isn't the only place on which you'll find escarpments. Rupes, created by faulting, erosion, or the impact of a meteorite, are escarpments on other planets or moons. Rupes is the Latin word for cliff. There are rupes on Mercury, Mars, our own moon, and the rocky moons of other planets.

Noun

narrow strip of land that lies along a body of water.

Noun

steep wall of rock, earth, or ice.

Noun

edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

Noun

one of the seven main land masses on Earth.

Noun

rocky outermost layer of Earth or other planet.

earthquake
Noun

the sudden shaking of Earth's crust caused by the release of energy along fault lines or from volcanic activity.

Noun

height above or below sea level.

Noun

act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.

Noun

cliff or steep rock that separates two level land surfaces.

fault
Noun

a crack in the Earth's crust where there has been movement.

faulting
Noun

movement of rocks and tectonic plates beneath the Earth's surface.

geologic era
Noun

one of 10 major periods in geologic history, each lasting several hundred million years. We are in the Cenozoic era.

Great Rift Valley system
Noun

series of faults and other sites of tectonic activity stretching from southwestern Asia to the Horn of Africa.

Noun

type of rock that has crashed into Earth from outside the atmosphere.

Noun

natural satellite of a planet.

Noun

large, spherical celestial body that regularly rotates around a star.

Noun

large region that is higher than the surrounding area and relatively flat.

Noun

division of a country larger than a town or county.

rock
Noun

natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.

rupes
Plural Noun

cliffs found on moons and on planets other than Earth.

sand
Noun

small, loose grains of disintegrated rocks.

scarp
Noun

steep cliff or line of cliffs.

seabed
Noun

the floor of the ocean.

sedimentary rock
Noun

rock formed from fragments of other rocks or the remains of plants or animals.

transition zone
Noun

areas in the Earth's interior between the upper mantle, near the Earth's crust, and the lower mantle, near the Earth's core.

Noun

flow of water descending steeply over a cliff. Also called a cascade.

wind
Noun

movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.