It might look like one, but is Uluru a mountain?
No, technically Uluru is not a mountain, it passes some mountain classifications, but not all of them. It is one, single rock monolith known as an ‘inselberg’ which is an isolated hill that stands above a plain.
In this post, I go into more detail about the research I did to find out if Uluru was a mountain, including five parameters I checked Uluru against.
I do not claim to be either a mountain or Uluru expert, but I do love geeking out about the places I visit, so I hope you find my detailed research and explanation interesting.
The Definition of a Mountain
Before we decide if Uluru is a mountain, we need to establish exactly what a mountain is.
For consistency in this article, I am using two references, the dictionary.com and Encyclopedia Britannica.
The dictionary definition of a mountain, taken from dictionary.com, is:
a natural elevation of the earth's surface rising more or less abruptly to a summit, and attaining an altitude greater than that of a hill, usually greater than 2,000 feet (610 meters).
So from this we have three things we are looking for:
- Is Uluru a raised part of the Earth’s surface?
- Does it raise abruptly to a summit?
- Is it taller than 600m?
To expand on the dictionary definition, I also looked up mountain in the Encyclopedia Britannica, and found out the following:
mountain, landform that rises prominently above its surroundings, generally exhibiting steep slopes, a relatively confined summit area, and considerable local relief. Mountains generally are understood to be larger than hills, but the term has no standardized geological meaning. Very rarely do mountains occur individually. In most cases, they are found in elongated ranges or chains.
From this, there are a few details to look for with Uluru:
- Again, we have a landform rising abruptly above its surroundings
- Does it have steep slopes?
- Does it have a relatively confined summit area?
- Again we are looking for something larger than a hill, but this definition mentions there is no standard size
- Does Uluru occur individually? This states that in most cases they are found in elongated ranges
Is Uluru a Mountain? 5 Checks
Now we have the facts on what a mountain is, we can run what we know about Uluru through these parameters.
Is Uluru a Raised Part of the Earth’s Surface?
No, Uluru is not a raised part of the Earth’s surface.
CHECK ONE: FAIL
Does Uluru Raise Abruptly to a Summit/Have Steep Slopes?
Yes, Uluru does raise abruptly above the surrounding plains (famously so in fact!), and it does have steep slopes.
CHECK TWO: PASS
Does Uluru Have a Relatively Confined Summit Area?
Whilst Uluru does have a summit, defined as ‘the highest point’, it cannot be considered confined, as it is large and flat rather than restricted and cramped. Most definitions of the word summit, also include the word ‘peak’ as in ‘peak of a mountain’. Uluru definitely does not have a peak.
From this perspective, Uluru is more a plateau than a mountain. Encyclopedia Britannica states that ‘Although plateaus stand at higher elevation than surrounding terrain, they differ from mountain ranges in that they are remarkably flat.’
From this research I conclude Uluru does not have a confined summit, and that it is more like plateau.
CHECK THREE: FAIL
Is Uluru Taller Than a Hill?
Uluru stands at 863m above sea level and 348 metres above the surrounding desert.
It is hard to be 100% certain whether this is bigger than a hill, as there is no strict height definition of a hill, or a mountain, so it is a relative term.
Here are some ballpark figures though:
- National Geographic states a hill is usually less than 300 metres above its surroundings
- Wikipedia has a mix of answers, not really clarifying a hill, but suggesting a mountain starts at 610m above sea level.
I think, on these figures, we can safely say Uluru is not a hill. Based on its prominence above the landscape and height above sea level, on this term it would be classified as mountain.
I enjoyed reading this post on Adventure.com ‘When does a hill become a mountain?‘ which tackles the same question in lots more detail.
CHECK FOUR: PASS
Is Uluru Part of a Range of Mountains?
Again, no, Uluru is not part of a range of mountains.
Kata-Tjuta stands nearby, and around 550 million years ago it was part of the Petermann Ranges which stood as tall as the Himalayas, but it is not part of a range of mountains now.
CHECK FIVE: FAIL
Is Uluru a Mountain? – Conclusion
It’s a tough one, but I think on the above, we can conclude that Uluru is not a mountain.
Whilst it meets the loose definition for a mountain’s height, and has abrupt, steep sides, it does not have the sharp, pointed summit more commonly associated with a mountain, does not occur as part of a range of other mountains and is a single rock monolith, rather than part of the earth’s crust.
So, if Uluru Is Not a Mountain, What Is It?
This is where the research got interesting, as there is a definition for exactly what Uluru is.
I assumed it was going to be deemed a plateau, but these are usually connected to other land at the same level.
Uluru is officially classified as an inselberg, defined as an isolated hill or mountain rising abruptly from a plain.
Once I learned that term, the research finished just as abruptly as the sides of Uluru itself.
This was the perfect definition of what Uluru is, in fact Uluru may not just be any inselberg, it looks like it may be the largest (and almost certainly the most famous) inselberg in the world.
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