The White Cliffs of Dover
The Trango Towers in Pakistan. Their vertical faces are the world's tallest cliffs. Trango Tower center; Trango Monk center left; Trango II far left; Great Trango right.
Europe's highest cliff, Troll Wall in Norway, a famous BASE jumping location for jumpers from around the world.

In geography and geology, a cliff is an area of rock which has a general angle defined by the vertical, or nearly vertical. Cliffs are formed by the processes of weathering and erosion, with the effect of gravity. Cliffs are common on coasts, in mountainous areas, escarpments and along rivers. Cliffs are usually composed of rock that is resistant to weathering and erosion. The sedimentary rocks that are most likely to form cliffs include sandstone, limestone, chalk, and dolomite. Igneous rocks such as granite and basalt also often form cliffs.

An escarpment (or scarp) is a type of cliff formed by the movement of a geologic fault, a landslide, or sometimes by rock slides or falling rocks which change the differential erosion of the rock layers.

Most cliffs have some form of scree slope at their base. In arid areas or under high cliffs, they are generally exposed jumbles of fallen rock. In areas of higher moisture, a soil slope may obscure the talus. Many cliffs also feature tributary waterfalls or rock shelters. Sometimes a cliff peters out at the end of a ridge, with mushroom rocks or other types of rock columns remaining. Coastal erosion may lead to the formation of sea cliffs along a receding coastline.

The British Ordnance Survey distinguishes between around most cliffs (continuous line along the topper edge with projections down the face) and outcrops (continuous lines along lower edge).

The far southwestern aspect of Nanga Parbat's Rupal face, highest cliff (rock wall/mountain face) in the world. The steepest part of the face is 2 km to the northeast.


Cliff comes from the Old English word clif of essentially the same meaning, cognate with Dutch, Low German, and Old Norse klif 'cliff'.[1] These may in turn all be from a Romance loanword into Primitive Germanic that has its origins in the Latin forms clivus / clevus ("slope" or "hillside").[2][3]

Large and famous cliffs

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Vihren’s 460 m north face seen from Golemiya Kazan, Pirin Mountain, Bulgaria
Cliffs along the north shore of Isfjord, Svalbard, Norway.
Kaliakra cape cliffs, Bulgaria
The Matengai in Oki Islands, Japan
The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland
Cliffs on the western shoreline of Sam Ford Fjord, Canada
Cliffs near Sortavala, Russia
Close-up view of Verona Rupes, a 20 km high fault scarp on Miranda, a moon of Uranus.[4]
Vratsata gorge, Vrachanski Balkan Mountains, Bulgaria

Given that a cliff does not need to be exactly vertical, there can be ambiguity about whether a given slope is a cliff or not and also about how much of a certain slope to count as a cliff. For example, given a truly vertical rock wall above a very steep slope, one could count just the rock wall or the combination. Listings of cliffs are thus inherently uncertain.

Some of the largest cliffs on Earth are found underwater. For example, an 8,000 m drop over a 4,250 m span can be found at a ridge sitting inside the Kermadec Trench.

According to some sources, the highest cliff in the world, about 1,340 m high, is the east face of Great Trango in the Karakoram mountains of northern Pakistan. This uses a fairly stringent notion of cliff, as the 1,340 m figure refers to a nearly vertical headwall of two stacked pillars; adding in a very steep approach brings the total drop from the East Face precipice to the nearby Dunge Glacier to nearly 2,000 m.

The location of the world's highest sea cliffs depends also on the definition of 'cliff' that is used. Guinness World Records states it is Kalaupapa, Hawaii,[5] at 1,010 m high. Another contender is the north face of Mitre Peak, which drops 1,683 m to Milford Sound, New Zealand.[6] These are subject to a less stringent definition, as the average slope of these cliffs at Kaulapapa is about 1.7, corresponding to an angle of 60 degrees, and Mitre Peak is similar. A more vertical drop into the sea can be found at Maujit Qaqarssuasia (also known as the 'Thumbnail') which is situated in the Torssukátak fjord area at the very tip of South Greenland and drops 1,560 m near-vertically.[7]

Considering a truly vertical drop, Mount Thor on Baffin Island in Arctic Canada is often considered the highest at 1370 m (4500 ft) high in total (the top 480 m (1600 ft) is overhanging), and is said to give it the longest vertical drop on Earth at 1,250 m (4,100 ft). However, other cliffs on Baffin Island, such as Polar Sun Spire in the Sam Ford Fjord, or others in remote areas of Greenland may be higher.

The highest cliff in the solar system may be Verona Rupes, an approximately 20 km (12 mi) high fault scarp on Miranda, a moon of Uranus.


See also: List of cliffs by continent

The following is an incomplete list of cliffs of the world.


Above Sea

Above Land



Mount Thor, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada, commonly regarded as the highest vertical drop on Earth
Southwest face of El Capitan from Yosemite Valley
The face of Notch Peak at sunset
Ketil's west face in Tasermiut, Greenland

Several big granite faces in the Arctic region vie for the title of 'highest vertical drop on Earth', but reliable measurements are not always available. The possible contenders include (measurements are approximate):

Mount Thor, Baffin Island, Canada; 1,370 m (4,500 ft) total; top 480 m (1600 ft) is overhanging. This is commonly regarded as being the largest vertical drop on Earth [1][2][citation needed]ot:leapyear at 1,250 m (4,100 ft).

  1. The sheer north face of Polar Sun Spire, in the §74:MTAtoFa

of Baffin Island, rises 4,300 ft above the flat frozen fjord, although the lower portion of the face breaks from the vertical wall with a series of ledges and buttresses.[8]

  1. Ketil's and its neighbor Ulamertorsuaq's west faces in Tasermiut, Greenland have been reported as over 1,000 m high.[9][10][11] Another relevant cliff in Greenland is Agdlerussakasit's Thumbnail.[12]

Other notable cliffs include:


Salto Angel from Isla Ratón, Venezuela.


Above Sea

Above Land


Above Sea

Above Land



Above Sea

Above Land

As habitat

Cliff landforms provide unique habitat niches to a variety of plants and animals, whose preferences and needs are suited by the vertical geometry of this landform type. For example, a number of birds have decided affinities for choosing cliff locations for nesting,[20] often driven by the defensibility of these locations as well as absence of certain predators. Humans have also inhabited cliff dwellings.


The population of the rare Borderea chouardii, during 2012, existed only on two cliff habitats within western Europe.[21]

See also


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 1971
  2. ^ a b "Francia 18/1 (1991)". Archived from the original on 2015-01-29. Retrieved 2023-10-04.
  3. ^ Max Pfister: Altromanische Relikte in der östlichen und südlichen Galloromania, in den rheinischen Mundarten, im Alpenraum und in Oberitalien. In : Sieglinde Heinz, Ulrich Wandruszka [ed.]: Fakten und Theorien : Beitr. zur roman. u. allg. Sprachwiss.; Festschr. für Helmut Stimm zum 65. Geburtstag, Tübingen 1982, pp. 219 – 230, ISBN 3-87808-936-8
  4. ^ "Natural world: the solar system: highest cliffs". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 2006-05-21. Retrieved 2014-11-16.
  5. ^ "Highest Cliffs". Guinness World Records. Archived from the original on 2005-11-27. Retrieved 2006-05-02.
  6. ^ Lück, Michael (2008). The Encyclopedia of Tourism and Recreation in Marine Environments By Michael Lück. ISBN 9781845933500. Archived from the original on 2017-12-06. Retrieved 2009-08-01.
  7. ^ "Planet Fear". Archived from the original on 2012-03-26. Retrieved 2009-08-04.
  8. ^ "Polar Sun Spire". SummitPost.Org. Archived from the original on 2008-12-02. Retrieved 2008-07-31.
  9. ^ "Climbing in Tasermiut". Archived from the original on 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
  10. ^ "The American Alpine Journal" (PDF). 1986. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 28, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-02.
  11. ^ "Grande Muralha da Groenlândia". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  12. ^ Jon Roberts: Agdlerussakasit (1750 m), east face, new route on east face; The Butler (900 m) and Mark (900 m), first ascents. American Alpine Journal (AAJ) 2004, pp. 266–267
  13. ^ "Catalogue of place names in northern East Greenland". Geological Survey of Denmark. Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  14. ^ "Backpacking - Kootenay National Park". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2019-09-29. Retrieved 2020-09-23.
  15. ^ "Geology Fieldnotes". National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2013-05-22. Retrieved 2010-11-28.
  16. ^ "Home - South West Coast Path". Archived from the original on 2011-06-11.
  18. ^ Smith, Oliver; Momber, Gary; Bates, C Richard; Garwood, Paul; Fitch, Simon; Gaffney, Vincent; Allaby, Robin G (2015). "Sedimentary DNA from a submerged site reveals wheat in the British Isles 8000 years ago". Science. 347 (6225). sciencemag: 998–1001. Bibcode:2015Sci...347..998S. doi:10.1126/SCIENCE.1261278. hdl:10454/9405. PMID 25722413. S2CID 1167101. Retrieved 7 June 2021 – via Microsoft Academic.[dead link]
  19. ^ Mount Wilson 1:25000 Map. NSW Govt. May 2014.
  20. ^ "Abiotic factor". Archived from the original on 2013-06-08.
  21. ^ González, García; Begoña, María; Espadaler, X; Olesen, Jens M (12 September 2012). Bente Jessen Graae (ed.). "Extreme Reproduction and Survival of a True Cliffhanger: The Endangered Plant Borderea chouardii (Dioscoreaceae)". PLOS ONE. 7 (9). Public Library of Science: e44657. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...744657G. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044657. hdl:10261/56308. PMC 3440335. PMID 22984539.