Cryoplanation terraces are bedrock steps or terraces on ridge crests and hilltops. The tread or “flat” area is 10 to several hundred meters wide and long and slopes from 1 to 5° parallel to the ridge crests. Terrace scarps may be from 1 to 75 m high. Terraces are cut into all bedrock types and are best developed on closely jointed, fine-grained bedrock. The scarps and treads are covered with frost-rived rubble 1 to 2 m thick. The rubble on treads is perennially frozen at a depth of 1 to 2 m or less on sharp but inactive terraces in Alaska.
Cryoplanation terraces exist in many parts of the world in present or past periglacial environments. They occur chiefly in nonglaciated regions and near the general altitude of snowline. Cryoplanation terraces form by scarp retreat as the result of nivation. Surficial debris is removed across the terrace tread by mass-wasting. Terrace morphology depends mainly upon climate, bedrock type, and terrace orientation.
No climatic data are available from active terraces. Indirect evidence indicates that climatic requirements include low snowfall and cold summer temperatures. Shallow permafrost is necessary to provide moisture and a base for mass movement as well as a base for nivation.
Hundreds of sharp but inactive terraces occur in some areas in Alaska where the summer temperature is colder than 10°C. When these terraces were active, temperatures were colder. Recent work in Alaska indicates that terraces were active in some areas when the mean July temperature was about 4°C. The mean annual air temperature probably was in the neighborhood of -12°C or colder.