Generic Terms

The following terms are taken from The History of Place-names in the British Antarctic Territory. British Antarctic Survey Scientific Reports, No.113, pp.52-59. HATTERSLEY-SMITH, G. 1991.


Anchorage Sea area where the depth of water and nature of the sea-bed are suitable, and the situation not too exposed, for vessels to ride safely at anchor.

Archipelago A large group of islands.


Bank Sea area of positive bottom relief where the water is relatively shallow, but normally sufficient for safe navigation. The term may also be applied to a small nunatak or other land feature.

Basin Synonymous on land with cirque, or an almost landlocked body of water off an inlet or sound, but the term in English form in the latter sense does not arise in this work.

Bastion Upstanding rock feature, often with cliffs on at least one side and usually outlying a larger feature, cf. buttress.

Bay Properly a comparatively gradual indentation of the coast-line, the seaward opening of which is usually wider than the penetration into the land, but often applied more loosely, cf. bight, firth,fjord, gulf, inlet.

Beach Ice-free length of shore, gently sloping and free of rock outcrops or material above cobble size.

Beacon Conspicuous hill.

Bench Similar to terrace but usually applied to a smaller feature.

Bight Crescent-shaped indentation in the coastline, of relatively large extent, cf. bay.

Block Similar to massif but usually applied to a smaller feature.

Bluff A headland or short terrace of cliff with a broad vertical or nearly vertical face, or a similar feature at the margin of a glacier or ice piedmont.

Buttress Similar to bastion but usually forming part of a larger feature.

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Cape Piece of land facing seaward and projecting beyond the line of the adjacent coast into the sea or into an ice shelf, cf. point, promontory.

Chain Row of hills, mountains or nunataks of lesser extent than a range.

Channel A comparatively deep, navigable waterway between an island (or islands) and the mainland, or between islands, or a navigable route through shoals, cf. strait, although the distinction between the two terms has not always been maintained as an application.

Chasm(s) Synonymous with large crevasse.

Cirque Rounded recess on a mountain side formed by glacial action and usually occupied by a glacier.

Cliffs Relatively high land projecting nearly vertically from the sea or, inland, mountains or nunataks with vertical faces.

Coast Boundary between land and sea, applied in place-names in the Antarctic Peninsula and Coats Land to lengths of coastline determined partly by the history of their discovery and partly by convenient demarcation points, cf. land.

Col Depression in a range of hills or mountains generally forming a pass.

Cone Cone-shaped hill or nunatak.

Corner Turning point of a rock ridge or a point on a bay.

Corridor Linked mountain passes.

Corrie Synonymous with cirque.

Cove Small coastal indentation, often circular or semi-circular in shape with a restricted entrance, or a small bay.

Crag Steep, rugged rock, hill, mountain or nunatak.

Creek Properly a comparatively narrow, fresh or salt water inlet, tidal throughout its length, although the term is used synonymously with cove, or on land a stream.

Crest(s) Top or summit applied to a hill, mountain or nunatak.

Crevasse Fissure formed in a glacier but not applied in place-names, cf. chasm.

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Defile Narrow mountain pass.

Dock Properly an area of artificially enclosed water, but used in this work for a cove affording shelter and safe anchorage.

Dome Dome-shaped ice cap or snowfield or dome-shaped snow summit.

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Escarpment Elongated and steep, or cliffed, rock feature marking a break in geological structure, cf. scarp.

Edge Steep or cliffed rock feature.

Entrance Seaward end of a harbour, channel, strait or sound.

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Firth Partly land-locked arm of the sea.

Fjord (or Fiord ) Long narrow arm of the sea between high cliffs, but the term bay has also been applied to such features.

Flat(s) Extensive level or nearly level area, usually of mud, sand or gravel.

Foothills Relatively low elevations in a mountainous area.

Foreland Synonymous with headland.

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Gap Synonymous with pass.

Glacier Mass of snow and ice moving continuously from higher to lower ground or, if afloat, continuously spreading. In the broad sense, glaciers include ice caps, ice piedmonts, ice rises, ice shelves, ice streams and snowfields, but in place-names the term is restricted to features of valleys or cirques.

Glacier tongue An extension of a glacier or ice stream projecting seaward, usually afloat.

Gulch Properly a ravine but applied to Bill’s Gulch, a steep and narrow valley glacier.

Gulf Sea area partially enclosed by land, and usually of larger extent and relatively greater penetration than a bay.

Gully Glacier-worn or water-worn ravine in a hill or mountain side.

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Harbour Protected stretch of water where vessels may safely anchor or secure to shore, in a cove, or bay or between islands.

Haven Properly a harbour or place of refuge for vessels, but used loosely for a cove.

Head (or Headland ) Comparatively high, steep-faced land jutting into the sea or into an ice shelf; similar to promontory but applied to a feature of lesser extent, cf. cape, point. An unnamed head is usually described as a headland.

Heights Relatively high hills or mountains.

Highland(s) Group of hills or mountains with glaciers or an undulating plateau.

Hill(s) Natural elevation usually below 300 m, but the term may be applied to much higher features in a mountainous areas, cf. knoll, mountain.

Holm Small island near the mainland or near a large island.

Horn Horn-shaped mountain or nunatak.

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Ice barrier Obsolete term for ice shelf or ice front.

Ice cap Dome-shaped glacier or small ice sheet usually covering a highland area.

Icefall Heavily crevassed area on a glacier where the descent is steep.

Ice fringe Very narrow ice piedmont, extending less than about 1 km inland from the sea.

Ice front Vertical cliff forming the seaward face of an ice shelf or other floating glacier and, because of its variable position, dated on maps and charts.

Ice piedmont A glacier covering a coastal strip of low-lying land backed by mountains, and sloping gently seaward over a distance up to 30km or more to terminate in ice cliffs or to merge with an ice shelf, cf. ice fringe.

Iceport Embayment (usually of variable position and extent) in an ice front, where ships can moor alongside and discharge on the ice shelf.

Ice rise Mass of ice, often dome shaped, resting on rock and surrounded either by an ice shelf, or partly by an ice shelf and partly by sea; no rock is exposed and there may be none above sea-level. For some features, properly ice rises, the term island has become established through usage.

Ice sheet Mass of ice and snow of considerable thickness, and often large area, either resting on rock or floating as an ice shelf, cf. ice cap.

Ice shelf Floating ice sheet of considerable thickness attached to a coast, and nourished by the accumulation of snow and often by the seaward extension of land glaciers. Limited areas may be aground as ice rises. The seaward edge is termed an ice front.

Ice stream A linear or curvilinear part of an ice sheet, often a few kilometres to a few tens of kilometres wide and tens to hundreds of kilometres long, in which the ice flows much faster than main body of the surrounding ice sheet. The margins are sometimes defined clearly by the presence of a shear zone marked by surface crevasses.

Ice tongue Synonymous with glacier tongue, which is the preferred term.

Ice rumples Locally grounded area of ice shelf which is over-ridden by an ice sheet and distinguished by crevassing together with a rise in the surface, cf. ice rise.

Inlet Small indentation in the coastline usually tapering towards its head, cf, creek, but also applied to an arm of a bay or to a coastal embayment on the landward side of an ice shelf.

Island(s) Piece of land of less than continental size completely surrounded by water at least at mean high-water spring tide, or by ice shelf, cf. ice rise. A very small island may be termed a rock or a skerry.

Islet Obsolete term in place-names for a very small island.

Isthmus Neck of land connecting two broader land masses.


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Knoll(s) Small hill or relatively low mountain or nunatak.

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Lagoon Enclosed area of salt or brackish water separated at times from the sea by a more or less effective obstacle such as a beach bar, or partially impounded against the land by an ice shelf, cf. lake.

Lake Body of water entirely surrounded by land or a lagoon.

Land Large continental area defined by natural boundaries, or partly by natural boundaries and partly by boundaries of political convenience. The term was formally used by explorers for newly discovered lengths of coastline, cf. coast.

Ledge Flat-topped ridge.

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Massif Compact group of mountain heights, which may be partly or almost entirely ice-covered.

Mesa Synonymous with plateau or table but of lesser extent.

Monolith Pillar like rock peak or nunatak.

Moss Peat-bog.

Moraine Ridges or deposits of rock debris transported by a glacier.

Mount Synonymous with mountain and preceding the specific part of a name.

Mountain(s) Natural elevation rising to a relatively great height. Mountain, hill and knoll are terms indicating various degrees of height in descending order, varying with the general configuration of the vicinity. The term mountains may be used for a grouping within a range.

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Narrows Contracted part of a channel or strait.

Needle Needle-like peak or off-shore rock.

Nunatak Small mountain, rocky crag, or outcrop projecting from a glacier, ice shelf or snowfield.

Ness A cape, point or promontory.

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Ocean The great body of water surrounding the continents or, in place-names, one of the main areas into which that body of water has been divided, partly by natural limits and partly by limits of convenience or unspecified limits.

Outcrop(s) Area of exposed rock surrounded by a glacier or snowfield.

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Pass Relatively low area that provides easy passage through hills or mountains, or a comparatively narrow channel.

Passage Navigable channel between two seas or oceans, or between reefs or islands.

Patch Synonymous with shoal and referring to a small, detached sea area that constitutes a danger.

Peak A hill or mountain with a comparatively sharp summit.

Peninsula Piece of land almost surrounded by water or projecting far into the sea, which may be of a very large extent, or small extent, cf. island.

Pike(s) Synonymous with peak.

Pillar Synonymous with pinnacle for an off-shore rock.

Pinnacle(s) A rock rising shear from the sea bottom, or slender peak or rock on land.

Plain Level, mainly ice-free area which may be at low or high elevation, cf. plateau.

Plateau More or less extensive ice-covered area of relatively high and uniform elevation, which may include one or more domes and be limited by mountain walls or not so limited, cf. plain, snowfield.

Plug Volcanic neck.

Point Sharp and often comparatively low piece of land jutting out from the coast or forming a turning point in the coastline, but usually applied to a less prominent or less navigationally significant feature than a cape. The term may also be applied to a rock feature at a little distance from a low ice-covered coast.

Pond Small lake.

Pool Small body of fresh or brackish water, or lagoon, impounded between an ice shelf and the land.

Port A harbour on which an occupied or unoccupied station is situated, or where an expedition ship has wintered.

Promontory Similar to a headland, but of larger extent, that may be above open sea, above an ice piedmont or above an ice shelf.

Pyramid Pyramid-shaped peak.


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Range Row of mountains, or groups of mountains broken by glaciers, extending over a considerable distance.

Reef Area of rocks, attached or unattached to shore, where the depth of water constitutes a danger to navigation. The term may be applied to an area where all the rocks are submerged or to an area where some rocks are above water.

Refuge Hut containing emergency rations, etc., for temporary occupation by field personnel or for the use of parties in distress.

Region Area of more or less marked natural boundaries or characteristics, but the term in English form is not officially used in place-names.

Ridge Long narrow hill or mountain top, or spur leading to a summit.

Rip A strait with strong tidal stream.

River Relatively large stream flowing into the sea or lake.

Roads (or Roadstead ) Open anchorage which may be protected by shoals, reefs, etc., but which affords less protection than a harbour.

Rock Hard, solid mass of the earth’s surface rising from the sea bottom, either completely submerged, or projecting permanently, or at times above water. A very large rock may be termed an island. The term rock may be applied to a small nunatak or other more or less conspicuous land feature.

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Scarp Steep or cliffed rock feature, usually of less extent than an escarpment, which may be inland or on the coast.

Sea Sub-division of the salt water partially covering the Earth’s surface, but smaller than an ocean.

Scree(s) Rock debris on the side of or at the foot of a hill or mountain, forming a steep stoney slope. The term may be applied to a mountain feature with such slopes.

Shoal(s) Detached area of sea bottom over which the sea depth of water constitutes a danger to navigation, cf. bank.

Skerry Small rocky island.

Snowfield Large expanse of permanent ice and snow which may extend down to sea-level, or may be intermontane, cf. plateau.

Sound A strait between two sea areas or an extensive, partially enclosed sea area, including an area that may be covered by ice shelf.

Spire(s) Spire-like peak.

Spit Long narrow shoal or a tongue of land extending from the shore.

Spur Projection from a mountain or range.

Stack High and precipitous detached rock near shore.

Station Buildings established for permanent or temporary occupation by scientists or supporting personnel, and usually referenced by a specific name only. In an ice free area the station usually remains at a fixed site but, on (moving) ice shelf with permanent snow, a station becomes buried after some years and may then be built anew at a site some kilometres away. The term is also used for the site of survey observations or scientific collections.

Strait Comparatively narrow waterway, connecting two seas or two large bodies of water, cf. channel, passage.

Strand crack Fissure at the junction between an inland ice sheet, ice piedmont or ice rise and an ice shelf, the latter being subject to the rise and fall of the tide, but the term does not arise in place-names.

Stream Small river but only the term creek has been officially used in place-names for so rare a feature in the British Antarctic Territory.

Stump Flat-topped hill or mountain.

Subglacial Describes features lying under ice cover. The term subglacial precedes the geographical term as in Subglacial Trench, Subglacial Highlands, and Subglacial Lake.

Summit Highest point of a hill or mountain, or the feature itself.

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Table Synonymous with plateau.

Terrace(s) Relatively flat horizontal or gently inclined surface, sometimes long and narrow, bounded by a steeper ascending slope on one side and by a steeper descending slope on the opposite side. The term may be applied to a feature at low level or high level, cf. bench.

Territory Extent of land under the jurisdiction of a sovereign state.

Tooth Tooth shaped rock or nunatak.

Tower(s) Tower-like hill, mountain or nunatak.

Trough Depression of sea floor applied in this work to such a feature beneath an ice shelf.

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Upland(s) High ice covered area with or without nunataks.

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Valley Long depression running from a higher level to a lower level (or to the coast), with a glacier completely filling the feature, partly filling it or terminating with it; rarely a valley may be ice-free with a seasonal stream running through it.

Volcano More or less conical hill or mountain which may erupt or has in the past erupted.

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Wall Nearly vertical scarp.




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