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A plateau is called a high plain or tableland in Earth Science. It is an area of highland, usually consisting of relatively flat terrain. A highly eroded plateau is called a dissected plateau. A volcanic plateau is a plateau produced by volcanic activity.

Plateaus can be formed by a number of processes, including, upwelling of magma, extrusion of lava, and erosion by water and glaciers. Magma rises from the mantle causing the ground to swell upward, in this way large, flat areas of rock are uplifted. Plateaus can also be built up by lava spreading outwards from cracks and weak areas in the crust, an example of such a plateau is the Columbia Plateau in the northwestern US. Plateaus can also be formed due to the erosional processes of glaciers on mountain ranges, in this case the plateaus are left sitting between the mountain ranges. Water can also erode mountains and other landforms down into plateaus.

Plateaus are classified according to their surrounding environment, common categories are: intermontane, piedmont, and continental plateaus.

  • Intermontane plateaus are the highest in the world, these plateaus are bordered by mountains. The Tibetan plateau is one such plateau.
  • Piedmont plateaus are bordered on one side by mountains and on the other by a plain or sea.
  • Continental plateaus are bordered on all sides by the plains or seas, form away from mountains.

The largest and highest plateau in the world is the Tibetan Plateau, called the "roof of the world", which is still being formed by the collisions of the Indo-Australian and Eurasian tectonic plates. In all the Tibetan plateau covers an area of some 2.5 million square kilometres which is approximately 5000m above sea level. The height of this plateau is such that it is enough to reverse the Hadley convection cycles and drive the monsoons of India to the south.

In North America the largest plateau is the Colorado Plateau covering an area of 337,000 km² (130,000 mi²).[1]