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Scarp (landform) facts for kids

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A fault scarp created by the 1983 Borah Peak earthquake
Cuesta - Lookout Mountain, Georgia
Escarpment face broken by a fault, Cumberland Plateau, Tennessee

Scarp is a term in geology and geography with several similar meanings.

  • A scarp is a cliff or steep slope. The word is derived from the Italian scarpa, meaning 'shoe'.
    • The surface of the steep slope is called a scarp face.
  • A fault scarp is a steep cliff made by movement along one side of a fault.
  • An escarpment is a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from faulting and resulting erosion. It separates two relatively level areas of different height.
    • A cuesta is an asymmetric ridge with an escarpment on one side and a gentle dip slope on the other side.


Scarps are generally formed by one or both:

  1. differential erosion of sedimentary rocks, or by
  2. vertical movement of the Earth's crust along a geologic fault.

Most commonly, an escarpment is a transition from one series of sedimentary rocks to another series of a different age and composition.

Escarpments are also frequently formed by faults. When a fault displaces the ground surface so that one side is higher than the other, a fault scarp is created. This brings a piece of high ground next to an area of lower ground.

More loosely, the term scarp describes the zone between coastal lowlands and continental plateaus. A marked, abrupt change in height is caused by coastal erosion at the base of the plateau.

Cuesta schematic1
Schematic cross section of a cuesta, dip slopes facing left, and harder rocklayers in darker colors than softer ones.
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