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Significant Landforms of Alberta

Please cite this document as:

Alberta Parks. 2014. Significant Landforms of Alberta Project – an Introduction. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Edmonton, Alberta.


The Landforms of Alberta project was initiated by Alberta Parks in the late 1990s to record the geomorphic features of the province as background information on the natural diversity of Alberta. Initially, this comprehensive review of Alberta landforms was done for the report Special Features in Alberta - Proposed Framework for Site Identification and Initial Evaluation of Potential Special Features Sites (ANHIC 1998b). The project has now been updated to document the spatial extent of landforms in the province that have been identified as significant provincially, nationally or internationally. The resulting data can be used as needed in planning projects, education programs or other.

Data Download

3 datasets are available for download (all are in the same .zip):                

  • Landform Element Occurrences - ESRI GIS shapefile
  • Landform Element Occurrences - Google KML
  • Landform Elements - Microsoft Excel spreadsheet
  • Download all Datasets (4.7 mb)


To provide a means to systematically identify landforms, a classification scheme was developed through literature review and consultation with experts (ANHIC 1998a) and further updated in 2014 with the assistance of experts at the Alberta Geological Survey. The classification organizes the landforms into groups based on genesis - the process that formed the landform type.

  • Seventeen (17) geomorphic processes are identified for Alberta.

Organized under the geomorphic process that forms them, a list of landform types that are present or expected to occur in the province was compiled. These are termed “landform elements and subelements” to mirror terminology used to document biological “elements” including species, subspecies and ecological communities. This terminology is used by the Alberta Conservation Information Management System (ACIMS) and throughout the NatureServe network.

  • 265 different elements/subelements are included in the database, each listed beneath one of the seventeen geomorphic processes.

To develop the database to store the information on where landform features occur, published and unpublished literature plus other sources such aerial photography were reviewed, and comments were gathered from professionals in government and academia. The database includes information on more than 3000 landform feature occurrences in Alberta, each classified as one of the 265 elements or subelements under this classification system.

The landform database does not include such features as stratigraphic sections or rock formations (with the exception of those created as result of igneous activity).

Geomorphic Processes

The seventeen geomorphic processes used in this classification are:

  • Burning gas seep
  • Frozen ground and snow
  • Glacial ice and meltwater
  • Glaciotectonism
  • Gravity - mass movement
  • Ground and/or surface water solution/suffusion - karst
  • Groundwater spring
  • Igneous activity
  • Lake waves and currents
  • Meteorite fall
  • Peat accumulation - non-permafrost
  • Peat accumulation - with permafrost
  • Running water
  • Spontaneous combustion
  • Tectonism or tectonism followed by erosion
  • Weathering and differential erosion
  • Wind


Landform Element and Subelement Data Set

The report, originally created in 1998 entitled Classification of Alberta Landforms (ANHIC 1998a) lists over 200 landform elements and subelements (organized by the process that formed them) and supplies a definition of each, along with a reference source.  The updated classification has been reviewed by experts at the Alberta Geological Survey, and they have been instrumental in a number of improvements and additions.

 There is an entry for each Landform Element or Subelement in the Landform Element data set. Each entry includes:

Landform Element Occurrences

Surficial geology maps and reports, scientific publications and other data sources were reviewed to determine the distribution and abundance of the various landform elements in Alberta, augmented through interviews with experts. Over 3000 occurrences of landform features in Alberta were identified, assigned to one of the elements or subelements in the classification, and entered into the landform occurrence database. Only the landforms considered significant in some way are mapped in GIS and included on the website as part of this data set.

Identifying Significant Landform Occurrences

One of the information pieces in the Landform Element Occurrence database may be a significance ranking. While in most cases, the rank will be blank, a landform occurrence may be considered significant for one or more of the following reasons:

Three different possible levels of significance are recorded in the database. A landform that is rare in Alberta is considered Provincially Significant. If it is also rare in Canada, it would be considered Nationally Significant or Internationally Significant if it is rare internationally. Similarly, if the landform is considered the “best” provincially, nationally or internationally, this will be reflected in the significance ranking. The rationale for the significance ranking is briefly discussed in a comments field. Only the landforms that are considered provincially, nationally or internationally significant are mapped and posted on the website. Others may be significant at a regional or local level, but these have generally not been included in the posted data.

The resulting data set documents landforms in the province that have been identified as significant provincially, nationally or internationally including spatial extent and can be used as needed in planning projects, education programs or other, as needed.  It is a work in progress. Not all known significant landforms have been digitized, and there are likely many not yet documented.   

References Cited

ANHIC (Alberta Natural Heritage Information Center). 1998a. Classification of Alberta Landforms. Alberta Environmental Protection, Edmonton, Alberta. 

ANHIC. 1998b. Special Features in Alberta: Proposed Framework for Site Identification and Initial Evaluation of Potential Special Features Sites. Prepared for the Special Places Provincial Coordinating Committee. Alberta Environmental Protection, Edmonton, Alberta.


The landform working group of Alberta Parks wishes to thank the experts at the Alberta Geological Survey for their assistance with various aspects of this 2014 update, including a critical review of the classification and GIS mapping of many of the features.

Management & Land-use