Hills and mountains are both landforms that rise up and above the surrounding terrain. Even with leaders in geography, there is no universally accepted definition for what determines if a landform is a hill or a mountain, so difference between hill and mountain is often left up in the air to some extent.
Differences Between Hills and Mountains
Hills are known for having a distinct summit, often times in areas that possess a dip or scarp topography. Hills typically refer to particular sections of flat terrain that don’t have a large summit and while the distinction between a mountain and a hill is subjective and largely unclear, a hill is considered by most to be smaller and not as tall as a mountain. With no clear-cut standards to differentiate between the two of these, the generally accepted notion is that mountains also are snow-capped and often part of colder climates.
This is not always the standard, of course. There are some mountainous areas – like the Pocono Mountains located in Pennsylvania – that are smaller than more classic mountains such as the Rocky Mountains in the United States. Even when geography leaders at the United States Geological Survey are questioned about the differences, they do not have hard and fast rules of what constitutes a mountain or a hill. Instead, the organization is customarily using wide categories for the majority of land features, including hills, mountains, rivers, and lakes.
According to the United States Geological Survey, mountains were defined as land masses scaling more than 1,000 feet up until the 1920s. This definition between a mountain and a hill was accepted until the 1970s, when there were then attempts to classify mountains as hills by placing rocks atop former land masses, made even more infamous by a scene in a movie in the 90s that covered the controversy.
Similarities Between Hills and Mountains
There are many similarities between hills and mountains. For starters, the three different types of landscape elevations—lowlands, rolling hills, and mountains—all share a common set of characteristics.
Hills are often smaller in size than mountains, but they are still significant because of their height. Hills can be created by erosion or deposition. These two processes are the same for mountains, except erosion is caused by water and deposition is caused by wind.
What Is a Hill?
The generally accepted standard of a hill is a land mass that has a lower elevation compared to a mountain and has more of a rounded shape instead of a distinct peak. Commonly accepted hill characteristics include:
- a natural land mass formed by erosion or faulting
- a land mass that rises gradually above its immediate surroundings
- a height of less than 2,000 feet
- a rounded top and no defined peak
- typically an unnamed land mass
- easy to access and climb
There are some hills that may have been mountains in the past but through the process of erosion across thousands of years, they have decreased in mass and height. Conversely, there are some mountains that were created through shifts of landmasses and tectonic plates. Examples include the Himalayan mountains in Asia.
How Do Hills Form?
Hills are formed by many different factors. For example, the steepness of the slope of the land is a major component in determining how long it will take for hills to form. Hills can also be created by large earthquakes or landslides.
These scenarios typically cause sediment to collect on one side of a valley, which causes an imbalance and causes one side of the valley to erode faster than the other. As this continues over time, a hill forms as a result of unequal erosion.
Types of Hills
Hills come in several types and there are a few different names given to them. There is a syncline and anticline, which typically form when two different layers of rock push against each other and buckle. A mesa is created when an upwelling of molten lava cools, creating a flat-topped plateau that stands out from the surrounding terrain. The term “mesa” can also be used for any type of hill or mountain with a steep slope on one side (the north face) but not so much on the south face. This means it has been eroded by wind and water more than the rest of its surroundings.
What Is a Mountain?
Mountains, in general, are considered taller than a hill, although there is no official height that has been assigned to this land mass. Mountains are usually quite obvious in local topography, and some examples of popular mountains include Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, and Mount Washington. Some generally accepted mountain characteristics include:
- a natural landscape caused by the earth faulting
- a steep elevation in landscape that is abrupt compared to nearby surroundings
- a height of at least 2,000 feet
- a steep peak or defined summit
- often a mountain has been named
- are difficult to climb
When Is a Hill a Mountain
There are some hills that are considered mountains. For example, in South Dakota, the Black Hills could be classified as mountains as they have a elevation over 2,000 feet. Black Elk Peak, an area of the Black Hills, has an elevation of over 7,000 feet, but the area received their name initially from the indigenous Lakota Indians, who referred to the mountains as Black Hills and the name has remained intact.
Types of Mountains
It’s not always easy to classify a mountain into one type or another. Some mountains are volcanic and others are formed from fault lines that rise up because of the movements of the Earth’s tectonic plates. There is also a third kind which can be difficult to distinguish. These mountains do not typically have clearly defined edges like volcanoes and fault lines, but instead they form their own type of geological structure.
Earth’s mountains are categorized in two ways: by height, and by the type of rock that formed them. The tallest mountain in the world is Mount Everest which towers at 8,848.86 meters. The Himalaya Range spans five nations and contains the worlds’ top ten tallest mountains, including K2 (8,611m) and Kangchenjunga (8,586m). Mountains are also classified by rock type.
The earth has an interesting and varied geography that has piqued the interest of humans all over the world, proving that there are sometimes no set guidelines when it comes to naming landscapes . Hills and mountains are integral to topography no matter what definition they fall under and even with no hard and fast rules, they both can be classified through the comparison of climate, heights, and the ecosystem surrounding them and a lot more.