plateau, elevated, level or nearly level portion of the earth's surface, larger in summit area than a mountain and bounded on at least one side by steep slopes, occurring on land or in oceans. Some plateaus, such as the Deccan of India and the Columbia Plateau of the NW United States, are basaltic and were formed as the result of a succession of lava flows covering hundreds of thousands of square miles that built up the land surface. Others are the result of upward folding; still others have been left elevated by the erosion of adjacent lands. Plateaus, like all elevated regions, are subject to dissection by erosion, which removes greater amounts of the upland surface. Low plateaus are often agricultural regions, while high plateaus are usually fit chiefly for stock grazing. Many of the world's high plateaus are deserts. Other notable plateaus are the Colorado Plateau of the W United States, the Bolivian plateau in South America, and the plateaus of Anatolia, Arabia, Iran, and the Tibet region of China.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.