What is a Cliff?

We have many times seen pictures of a huge mass of rock standing almost vertically along the ocean or riverbanks. These are nothing but cliffs, which are a common form of landscape. Apart from the ocean or riverbanks, cliffs can also be seen in the high mountains, walls of canyons and valleys. Waterbodies tumble over cliffs to form waterfalls.

According to Wikipedia,

“In geography and geology, a cliff is a vertical, or nearly vertical, rock exposure. Cliffs are formed as erosion landforms by the processes of weathering and erosion. Cliffs are common on coasts, in mountainous areas, escarpments and along rivers.”

How are Cliffs formed?

Cliffs can be formed due to various reasons, such as water and erosion, movement of glaciers, tectonic activity, escarpment, and volcanic eruption.

Water and Erosion

Waves of the sea hit the land and create a cut called Notch. The notch erodes either due to water or weather or both to develop a cave. With the passage of time, hollows are created on the cave and the overhanging part of the cave collapse into the sea, leaving a huge piece of rock standing along the sea bank. This is what we know as a cliff. Further erosion from weathering gives rise to the vertical cut feature of the cliff. Cliffs are formed by rivers also.

Movement of Glaciers

After the ice age, as the temperature of the earth began rising, the mammoth glaciers that covered the surface of earth started moving. Their pace and tremendous weight created depressions, which are mostly triangular shaped. These cliffs are called truncated spurs.

Tectonic Activity

The massive tectonic plates underlying the surface of the earth shifts from time to time and come in contact with each other creating enormous pressure, which forces one plate to move upwards and overhang. It is generally the process through which cliffs in the mountain are formed.


Movement of a geologic fault or occurrence of a landslide is the cause of formation of an escarpment, which is a common type of cliff. Since landscapes are formed with rocks of different hardness, the erosion resulting from water or wind leads to wearing-off of one side more than the other, thereby leading to the formation of cliffs.

Volcanic Eruption

Many sea cliffs are an outcome of volcanic eruptions. The island of Santorini, Ustica in the Tyrrhenian Sea or Krakatau, in Indonesia are good examples of cliffs that were formed due to volcanic outbursts.

20 Magnificent Facts About the Cliffs

Fact 1: The Etymology

The word cliff originates from an old English word “clif,” which meant a large body of vertical or near vertical rock visible from the surface.

Fact 2: The Rocks that form Cliffs

The sedimentary rocks that are found in cliffs are actually sandstone, dolomite, and limestone. On the other hand, igneous rocks that form cliffs are basically granite and basalt.

Fact 3: Scree or Talus

Cliffs are sometimes covered with loose pebbles or gravels on the slope. This is known as Scree. Talus, on the other hand, is usually larger than Screes and often includes house size rocks. The surface of the Talus can be so large that trees and vegetation grow on the slope.

Fact 4: The Highest Cliff in the World

The Rupal Flank is the highest cliff in the world which lies in the Nanga Parbat, a mountain in the Himalayas. The Rupal Flank has a height of 4,600 meters (15,092 feet) from its base. The cliff is in Pakistan.

Fact 5: The Controversy

Many scientist and mountaineers challenge this claim and state that the east face of Great Trango is the highest cliff in the world. Located in the Karakoram mountain range, the east face of Great Trango rises up to 1,340 meters (4,396 feet) from the surface. This cliff is also in Pakistan. However, it is unanimously accepted that the east face of Great Trango is the most difficult rock to climb in the world.

Fact 6: The Tallest Cliff in the Solar System

The Verona Rupes, situated in Miranda, a moon of the planet Uranus, is considered the tallest cliff in the entire solar system. Its height is around 10 km (6.2 miles).

Fact 7: Underwater Cliffs

World’s steepest cliffs are mostly found under the seas. These cliffs are called oceanic trenches.

Fact 8: The Highest Cliff in Europe

The Troll wall, located in Norway, is the highest cliff in Europe. The cliff is popular among jumpers for its vertical inclination.

Fact 9: Famous Cliff in the USA

The Kalaupapa cliff in Hawaii, the USA, is a large cliff with 1,010 meters vertical wall. This cliff attracts adventure lovers and tourists alike because of its features and lies 2000 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

Fact 10: Most Popular Cliff in Ireland

Cliffs of Moher are the most popular tourist attraction in Ireland. It draws around one million visitors each year. The Cliffs of Moher range from 120 to 214 meters in height above water level and lies along 8 kilometers. It is made of sedimentary rock, especially shale and sandstone.

This cliff is home to 20 species of birds, which include endangered species like peregrine falcons. Cliffs of Moher also contains numerous fossils, which include traces left by sea creatures. This cliff is a part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, a member of the Global Geoparks Network supported by UNESCO.

Fact 11: Examples of some famous Cliffs

White Cliffs of Dover, UK

Étretat, Haut-Normandie Region of France

Hornelen Mountain, Island of Bremangerlandet, Norway

Fact 12: The Grand Canyon

The Colorado River in Arizona, United States, created the cliff of Grand Canyon, which is 446 km long, 29 km wide and 1857 meters deep.

Fact 13: Work in Progress

Most sea cliffs are considered a “work in progress” as they are continuously changing and retreating, owing to weathering and water erosion.

Fact 14: Cliff Tourism

The cliffs and caves allure explorers and adventure lovers leading to flourishing cliff tourism business. Exploring the caves and climbing rocks, therefore, have become two major attractions for tourists around the world.

Fact 15: Dangers of Sea Cliffs

The morphological features of the sea cliffs make them danger prone. Their steepness and height are responsible for rock falls and landslides. The rockfall is a common incident in the case of sea cliffs, and it is dangerous as it can cause injuries. Landslides are a feature mostly visible during the rainy season. Moreover, the coastal cliffs can be loose as they are made of sand, silt, clay, marl, and chalk. These loose cliffs are at higher risk of erosion and rock fall.

Fact 16: Advantages of Cliffs

Majority of the cliffs are a place of residence for a large variety of animals and plants. Birds find cliffs very safe as there is the absence of predators. For humans, cliffs offer a wide opportunity for tourism and adventure sports business.

Fact 17: Threats to the Cliffs

A recent study has revealed that rock climbing hampers the ecosystem of the cliffs. Recreational rock climbing decreases the diversity of the vegetation on the cliffs along with the coverage of vegetation on them.

Fact 18: Impact of Coastal Erosion and Environmental Degradation

The coastal erosion and environmental degradation along many coastal areas are causing damage to flora and fauna of the cliffs. Increased tourism and related human activities are also contributing to coastal erosion.

Fact 19: Techniques to Strengthen Cliffs

To prevent quick erosion of coastal cliffs, different techniques are applied. Some of them are:

  • Cliff reshaping/profiling
  • Cliff drainage
  • Rock bolting/pinning
  • Concrete buttress and riprap strips
  • Reinforced geogrid and pinned net

Fact 20: Conservation and Management of Sea Cliffs

In the United Kingdom, the Nature Conservancy and later the Nature Conservancy Council, both government agencies, initiated work to improve the status of sea cliff habitats around the island during the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, they published a “Sea Cliff Management Handbook” which provided a summary of the ecology of the cliffs and mentioned its important management methods.





A professional writer, blogger, copywriter, and a member of the International Association of Professional Writers and Editors, New York. He has been part of many reputed domestic and global online magazines and publications. An avid reader and a nature lover by heart, when he is not working, he is probably exploring the secrets of life.