How is a Mountain Formed?

Mountains are formed in diverse ways that are associated with the movement of tectonic plates. In simple words, we can say that they are created by geological processes.

The variations in the formation process give rise to diverse mountains and mountain ranges. The forming processes include folding, faulting metamorphism, volcanic activity, and igneous intrusion.

The only thing common about all the mountains is that all of them take millions of years to form!

Until the 18th century, mountain formation was explained by geosyncline theory, which later became obsolete with the introduction of plate tectonics in the 1960s, which we will discuss below.

What is a Mountain?

A mountain is described as a large mass of landform that rises prominently above the surrounding area. Many classify a rising landform, of at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more, like a mountain.

Most mountains are formed and are found in ranges barring some exceptions.

How are the Mountains Formed?


The Earth’s crust called tectonic plates keep on moving because of geological activities. When these plates collide, mountains are formed.

For example, the Himalayan range in Asia was formed after such a collision that started about 55 million years ago.

Types of Mountains and Their Formation

Principally there are five types of mountains. They are distinguished by their distinct physical characteristics and the nature of their formation.

  1. Fold Mountains
  2. Block Mountains (also known as Fault-Block Mountains)
  3. Dome Mountains
  4. Volcanic Mountains
  5. Plateau Mountains (Erosion Mountains)

Fold Mountains

The Himalayan mountain range, including the tallest mountain in the world (Mount Everest), is a chain of fold mountains.

The most common type of mountain landform is the Fold Mountains.

When two tectonic plates collide, they buckle and fold just like a piece of paper folds in the middle when pushed from two opposite ends. Such collision also triggers earthquakes in the region.

The upward folds are called anticlines, and the downward folds are known as synclines. The world’s largest mountain ranges are fold mountains formed over millions of years. For example, the Himalayan Mountain Range in Asia was formed after Eurasian and Indian Plates collided.

Some of the characteristics of Fold mountains are distinct climates, glacier valleys, and fast-flowing rivers.

Some of the Fold mountains are –

  • Himalayan Mountains (Asia)
  • The Rockies (North America)
  • The Andes (South America)
  • The Alps (Europe)
  • The Urals (Russia)

Block Mountains (Fault-Block Mountains)

The Sierra Nevada Mountains in North America are block mountains or fault-block mountains.

The Earth’s crust forces blocks of rock up and down or past one another forming Block or Fault-Block Mountains after stacking or piling of these rocks.

Dissimilar to Fold Mountains, the Earth’s crust pulls apart and breaks into blocks.

Blocks formed at height are called horsts and cribs are called grabens. Block mountains are usually steep on one side and sloping to the other side.

Some of the Block Mountains are –

  • The Sierra Nevada Mountains (North America)
  • The Harz Mountains (Germany)
  • The Grand Tetons (United States)

Dome Mountains

Enchanted Rock (USA) is a dome mountain.

The molten rocks or magma in the core pushes its way to the surface of Earth. If it fails to erupt, then it cools to form a firm rocky foundation. This uplifted landscape is called dome because of its spherical shape at the top, resulting in Dome Mountains.

The magma force is not hard enough to rise as high as the Fold mountains, and erosion clears the outer layer of the mountain, exposing the dome shape.

Some of the Dome Mountains are –

  • Half Dome in the Sierra Nevada range (USA)
  • Enchanted Rock (USA)
  • Navajo Mountain (USA)

Dome Mountains are relatively hard to spot. Satellite images are required to identify the dome shapes.

Volcanic Mountains

Mount Fuji is an iconic volcanic mountain situated in Japan.

Simply put, Volcanic eruptions create volcanic mountains. Once the magma erupts to the surface and becomes lava, it cools down and slowly builds itself into a mountain.

The Volcanic mountain comprises lava and piles of rock.

A Volcanic mountain is either a stratovolcano or a shield volcano.

A shield volcano has a sloping cone because of basalt and low-viscosity materials emitted during formation.

A stratovolcano cools faster before spreading. They erupt more violently than shield volcanoes.

Some of the Volcanic Mountains are –

  • Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania)
  • Mount Fuji (Japan)
  • Mount St. Helens (North America)
  • Mount Pinatuba (Philippines)
  • Mauna Loa (Hawaii)

Plateau Mountains (Erosion Mountains)

Erosion mountains of New Zealand

Some mountains are formed because of erosion. Such peaks are known as the Plateau Mountains or Erosion Mountains.

Over hundreds of years, rivers and streams cut through the plateau, eroding and leaving behind mountain formations.

Long continuation of erosion may erode the mountain ultimately.

Some of the Plateau or Erosion Mountains are –

  • Catskill Mountains (USA)
  • Mountains of New Zealand

Did You Know?

Mauna Kea

World’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest is elevated at 29,035 feet (8,848 meters) from sea level.

However, Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano in the Pacific Ocean, is the tallest measured at 33,474 feet (10,203 meters) from the oceanic base. Above sea level, it is 13,796 feet (4,205 meters) high.

In the End

For centuries, human beings believed in the supernatural force and formed cultures and religions around the mountains. They served it as the place to get closer to god.

Modern geology has now given us a clear explanation of how such majestic mountains are formed without disgracing these mountains’ magical and spectacular nature.

And we are awe-struck every time we get closer to such stunning creation of nature.