Plains: Types; Uses; structures; facts & importance

In the previous articles, we learned about oceans and the Himalayas. In this article, we will know more about another landform of the Earth i.e. Plains. So, you must be thinking about what plains exactly are? Stay calm and you will get to know everything about plains. In this article we would get to know about Plains: Types, Uses, structures, facts and importance.

What are Plains?

Plains, in geography, generally refer to a flat surface of land that does not have a reasonable change in elevations. They are the levelled regions of Earth that show gentle slopes and small relief. They may vary highly in their sizes. Some small plains can be of few hectares while some of the largest plains of the world can be covering over thousands of kilometres. 

Plains occupy more than one-third of the surface of the Earth and are found on all continents on Earth except Antarctica. Plains occur north of the Arctic Circle in the tropics and the middle latitudes. For this reason of huge distribution, plains show a wide range of life and vegetation all over the world. The world consists of a large number of plain regions. Some of the most famous plains are the Indo-Gangetic plains. Australian plains, Great Plains of USA, the Llanos, the Pampas and the Steppes.

How are formation of Plains?

Plains may be formed in different ways. Some plains are formed as ice and water erode the dirt and rocks. This water and ice carry the dirt, rock and other materials with them downhill where they are deposited. Upon this, multiple layers are deposited and as a result, plains are formed. 

Some plains may also be formed through volcanic activities. When the lava from inside of Earth comes up and flows on the land, Lava plains are formed. They are generally darker in colour due to the lava. The black colour comes from a mineral called basalt which was broken down over millions of years.

Moving rivers also lead to the formation of plains. As the rivers move, they erode the valley region forming broad plains. When the water flows, it carries mud, sand and some other sediments from the upper regions to the lower-lying regions. As the water flows away, the sediments remain. Repetitive deposition of these sediments leads to the formation of flood plains as they are formed by the floodwater. Usually, flood plains are highly rich in nutrients. 

Some rivers deposit the sediments in the oceans, making them rise above sea level, forming a coastal plain. These plains slope gently down under the surface of the water. 

What are the 4 different types of plains? 

Generally, there are four types of plains in the world – Erosional plains, Structural Plains, Depositional plains and Abyssal plains. Let us know about all these types of plains in a bit of detail.

  • Erosional Plains

These types of plains are formed by the effect of erosion due to agents like water, wind and rain. These agents further help them to smoothen up and over the time of millions of years, they are reduced to low plains. Such plains where denudation takes place are also called peneplains, meaning almost plains as they are not perfectly flat. Some examples of Erosional plains are the lowlands of Canada, German plains, lowlands of the US and west Siberian plains of Russia.

  • Depositional Plains 

As known above, they are formed by the deposition of sand, silt, mud and other materials over a long period. Depositional plains can be further classified into:-

1. Glacial plains –the plains formed by the action of glaciers are called glacial plains

Plains: Types; Uses; structures; facts & importance image source – Wikimedia Commons

2. Alluvial plains – these plains are formed by the deposition of silt due to the flow of rivers. The great Indo-Gangetic plains are an example of alluvial plains.

Plains: Types; Uses; structures; facts & importanceimage source – Wikimedia commons

3. Loess plains – these plains are formed by the action of wind. Gobi desert is an example of Loess plain.

Plains: Types; Uses; structures; facts & importanceimage source – Wikimedia Commons
  • Structural plains

Structural plains are formed when there is an upliftment or depression in the crust of Earth due to the movement of Earth. The primary difference between depositional and structural plains is that the former are continuous happening plains while the latter is relatively undisturbed ones.

  • Abyssal Plains

The types of plains that are formed under the surface of seas and oceans. They have very gentle slopes or are flat regions inside the sea or oceans.

How is the Life and vegetation of plains different?

Plains have a very rich life and vegetation with the regions being highly crowded. The Great Indo-Gangetic plains are highly populated with the primary source of livelihood being agriculture. Some of the common crops grown here are maize, wheat, sugarcane and cotton. Monsoon is the main source of irrigation. The region also receives water from the Ganga, Yamuna and Brahmaputra rivers. 

The plain is home to a wide variety of animals with the Asian rhinoceros being the highlight. Buffaloes, rhinos, elephants, lions and hippos can also be seen in the region. Some endangered species of fishes and animals are also seen in these plains. 

The Great Plains of the USA were very sparsely populated till the 1600s. Since then, it has become a major area for settlements and some of the most important cities of the country lie in the region. The Great Plains are dominated by large tall grass. The major animals of the plains are bison, buffalo, prairie dogs, coyotes and several species of snakes. 

What are some famous examples of Plains?

There are many Plains all over the world but some of the most prominent and important ones are:

1. The Indo-Gangetic Plain

Lying in the south of the Himalayas, the Indo-Gangetic Plain is a fertile land covering approximately 2.5 million square kilometres of the northern regions of the Indian Subcontinent. The plain consists of northern and eastern parts of India, eastern parts of Pakistan, Bangladesh and areas of Nepal. The Plain gets its name from the major rivers of the region – Indus and Ganga. The entire Indo-Gangetic Plain is bound by the Himalayas and is fed by the rivers from it providing rich and fertile alluvium which is deposited in the plain region.

2. Llanos

The Llanos plains are located in Colombia and Venezuela. It is a vast tropical grassland plain in the north-western region of South America. On the west, it is bound by the Andes and by the Venezuelan coastal range in the north. The Orinoco is the major river of the plain, running west to east through the ecoregion.

3. Pampas

The Pampas are the South American lowlands that are quite fertile and cover nearly 1.2 million square kilometres and includes regions of many countries in the continent. The plain has a temperate climate with annual precipitation of 600 to 1200 mm spread all across the year. This makes the region much suitable for agriculture purposes.

4. Steppes

Steppes are the vast treeless plains of Russia. It extends from the Caspian Sea and eastwards. The plains have very stark weather with very hot temperatures in summers and very cold in winters with no or less rainfall.

5 interesting facts about plains you might not know!

There are several interesting facts about plains which you may not know. But we would inform you about them. 

  • Plains all over the world cover more than one-third of the total area.
  • Plains of any other planets are called as ‘planitia’. The plains of Mars are termed ‘Hellas Planitia’ while the plains of Venus are ‘Sedna Planitia’.
  • The forested plains of Mexico are called as Tabasco Plains and is the home to all types of vegetation including trees and shrubs.
  • The Plains of Arctic are frozen and are called Tundra. 
  • Coastal plains are hugely wooded and are important for the surrounding regions. 
  • Almost 80% population of the world lives in plains and thus they are called as the ‘Food baskets of the World.

What are the Uses and Importance of plains?

All over the world, plains have influenced the world in a great way. Ranging from the lifestyle to the livelihood of people, they affect us in a great way.

  • Fertile in Nature and good for agriculture Plains generally have a fertile soil profile. Also because of the flat surface, they provide good means of irrigation. This makes plains perfect for agricultural purposes. For this reason, plains are also termed as the ‘Food baskets of the world’.
  • High population density Agriculture has led to more settlement of people in the plains. Over the years, plains have become highly populated and have been increasing continuously.
  • Industrial growth The rich agriculture has paved the way for many agro-based industries in the plains and with abundant labour available, industries have seen immense growth in plain regions. 
  • Properly connected with transport Flatlands have led to the better building of roads, airports and railways. It has been one of the biggest points in the growth of industries and the economy of a country. 
  • Highly developed cities All the above-mentioned significances have led to the rapid expansion and setting up of highly developed cities and towns. All the major trade centres of the world are situated in the plains. As much as 80% of the world’s total population lives in the planar regions. 

Some Threats to Plains and their Conservations

Over the years, plains have grown up with populations. This has led to some serious threats to plains some of which are

  1. Overgrazing 
  2. Poor agriculture practices – this can affect the soil of the region and reduce its fertility. If the crops are not rotated well, it leads to a decrease in fertility and an increase in alkalinity of it.
  3. Toxic pesticides and fertilisers – these chemicals are sprinkled over for better yield and preventing them from attacks of pests and other objects. These chemicals can be dangerous for the soil as well as for the flora and fauna of the region.
  4. Overpopulation – the increasing population in plains has exploited the available resources to the greatest limit. 
  5. Deforestation – continuous settlement and development of cities have led to the cutting of the trees, leading to damage to the habitat. 
  6. Continuous global warming – the increasing global warming has changed the rainfall patterns affecting life in plains

There are certain ways in which we can prevent and conserve our plains. We must educate others and create awareness regarding conservation. Common people can be taught about how they can contribute towards conservation. More and more trees can be planted in different regions. Better practices of agriculture can be used for better soil health. All these steps need to be taken by the common people for better sustenance of Plains.

So, now we have learnt everything about Plains: Types, Uses, structures, facts and importance.


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