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I want to create a gimmick world, that is ALMOST entirely covered up with massive mesa/canyon-like structures : flat-topped elevation ridges or hills bounded by steep escarpments. The space in between large plateau would naturally be canyons. What are my options ?

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ "Doesn't really matter if it's science, pseudo-science or magic" So what do you want from answers ? If all you care about is the appearance, then there is no Worldbuilding problem. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ Have you read A Gift From Earth by Larry Niven? He had a way to keep people on the Plateau, even though it was a speck on the surface of a world... $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ It is generally recommended that you wait a day or two before accepting an answer, as many people from different time zones comes to WB SE and some people make very detailed answers sometimes that require some checking and research on their part. This is not a criticism of the answer by @ZeissIkon (I know very little about geology myself) , just a general remark about how the site works. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ The entire Africa is basically a plateau... "In contrast with other continents, it is marked by the comparatively small area of either very high or very low ground, lands under 180 m (590 ft) occupying an unusually small part of the surface". (Wikipedia) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ By "What are my options" are you looking for options to make a world fully covered in plateaus or options for what kinds of civilizations / wild lift / natural phenomena / etc. would occur on such a planet? $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 14:08

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That kind of mesa (or tepua if you're in South America) forms by erosion of a plain. Typically, you'll find a somewhat resistant upper layer, a number of relatively soft (or easily eroded, for reasons other than mechanical properties) layers, all sitting on another resistant layer.

It seems pretty unlikely you'd have this kind of terrain all over a planet, because it's a near-endpoint of eroding away a sedimentary formation, and the "softer" rock has to be uplifted to give the necessary runoff zones -- as well as, for some period, having either enough rainfall (upslope) to provide the runoff, or an ice dam or similar impoundment that can lead to catastrophic erosion.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you, I guess I'll just have to go ham on the magic with this one. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 15:06
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On Earth mesas are caused by localized forces of erosion on specific kinds of ground. This is not something you can really get on a planetary scale, but there is another force that might form mesa like structures, and that is magnetism.

enter image description here

So, use a Magnetar

Magnetars are a kind of neutron star with ridiculously powerful magnetic fields that are quadrillions of times more powerful than the field surrounding Earth. The big difference between using a magnetar and relying on erosion is that the magnetar affects your whole world pretty much the same; so, two places in two different regions will still experience the same kind of forces. The magnetic field of the magnetar would have a similar effect on the terrain to tidal forces; however, instead of affecting all matter equally, it will only pull on the ferrous elements in your planet. As such, anywhere you have a lot of iron, that iron will raise the ground up and pull together into mesas whereas less ferrous areas will be stripped of what iron they do have and sink down lower giving you your mesas and your canyons regardless of any other local geological happenings.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't those forces change direction every day as the planet rotates (I presume he wants an inhabitable world so it has to)? $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ If the star is the right distance, then lifting the plateaus would be a multi million year process that would happen one little bit at a time where the resting shape would be the result of rules of averages. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 23:23
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For this situation to be viable (people only living on the top of the plateau), you would need a reason for the valleys between the Mesa to not work as a plain, while the top of the Mesa still does (because you need to at the very least grow or hunt food). Because of this, a desert climate wouldn't make sense (Mesas would also be desert), and we can also rule out lava. What I would suggest is deadly creatures or fast-moving water. The societies that form would be cool, bridges that are built would literally become arteries for larger cities, and I could see some primitive gliders being implemented to transverse the area.

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    $\begingroup$ I almost down voted this because it has nothing to do with how to make a world full of plateaus, then realized how open ended this question really is as worded... lol $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 14:06
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You have a lot of options, but making most of the planets looking like that is still very weird.

Karst

Some rocks are soluble (e.g. limestone) and when they do, the insoluble rocks were left behind, often forming peculiar formations. Personally, I find this formation the most fantasy-looking.

Zhangjiajie, China Zhangjiajie, China

Volcanic Plateau

If volcanic activity produced sufficient quantity of viscous lava, they may solidify in plateau-like formations.

Pajarito Plateau, United States Pajarito Plateau, United States

Large Igneous Province

Extremely large volcanic activity may also form an igneous province. It's like volcanic plateau, only at much larger scale.

Deccan Traps, India
Deccan Traps, India

Fjord

Basically canyon, except carved by glaciers.

Norwegian Fjords Norwegian Fjords

Mesa

Finally, the good old mesa. They are formed when softer rocks were eroded, leaving the harder rocks as "caps" overlain by softer ones.

Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, South Africa Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, South Africa

Now that I've answered the question, I can move on to this: does it really have to cover most of the planet? If this is going to be the setting of a story, only the place where most of the story takes place needs to be mesas. I really doubt you would need to use the entire planet for the story, but in case you do (maybe you're writing an anthology or a really long story), it would actually be boring if everything looks similar. Personally, I would avoid single-biome planet.

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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget geological Hoodoos. $\endgroup$
    – cowlinator
    Commented Jun 19, 2020 at 1:22
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I would say it is not possible for an entire planet or at least not for an inhabitable planet. But taking “world” to mean a very large area (e.g. the Roman world) rather than an entire planet it might well be possible.

Imagine a planet with a very dense atmosphere and a lot of volcanism. An extensive area of high plateau might form and with the right rock strata, climatic conditions and enough time could be dissected into a mass of large mesas that you are after. If the canyons were deep enough it might not be possible to cross the intervening gaps because of the pressure and gas concentrations in the lower areas.

Imagine if the pressure at the top of Mount Everest was 1 bar. At sea level the air pressure might be 3 bar or more. And with an increased level of carbon dioxide that was just manageable at Everest height might well be toxic at increased pressure and concentration in the lower areas.

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This world could orbit an orange dwarf star.

what usually causes geological formations, believe it or not, is tidal forces, albeit only one factor, and one of the main ones due to gravity tugging on a body a causing geological formations to begin forming.

since worlds around orange and red dwarfs are much closer to their parent stars, this would entail much more active plat tectonics and tidal forces generating mountainous Terrain planet-wide. The planet could be smaller than this one too, thus making it be more mountainous.

and such a would would have white or gray colored skies and blue plant-life if around an Orange dwarf. So all in all, this world of yours is going to be an amazing place to visit.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you provide supporting information for any of this? Even the coolest red dwarf stars known are as hot as the filament in a common incandescent lamp -- which looks white to the eye, unless there's a bluer light to compare against. There's plenty of blue to scatter in the sky, and green chlorophyll does a fine job of using red and yellow light, just as it does blue. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ This answer is wrong. Such geological formations do not form because of tidal forces. $\endgroup$
    – Gimelist
    Commented Jun 18, 2020 at 23:05

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