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Physical geography (also known as physiography) is one of the three main branches of
geography Geography (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , ''geographia''. Combination of Greek words ‘Geo’ (The Earth) and ‘Graphien’ (to describe), literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, i ...
. Physical geography is the branch of
natural science Natural science is one of the branches of science concerned with the description, understanding and prediction of Nature, natural Phenomenon, phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer re ...
which deals with the processes and patterns in the natural environment such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere. This focus is in contrast with the branch of human geography, which focuses on the built environment, and technical geography, which focuses on using, studying, and creating tools to obtain,analyze, interpret, and understand spatial information. The three branches have significant overlap, however.


Sub-branches

Physical geography can be divided into several branches or related fields, as follows: * Geomorphology is concerned with understanding the surface of the Earth and the processes by which it is shaped, both at the present as well as in the past. Geomorphology as a field has several sub-fields that deal with the specific landforms of various environments e.g.
desert A desert is a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. The lack of vegetation exposes the unprotected surface of the ground to denudation. About one ...
geomorphology and fluvial geomorphology; however, these sub-fields are united by the core processes which cause them, mainly tectonic or climatic processes. Geomorphology seeks to understand landform history and dynamics, and predict future changes through a combination of field observation, physical experiment, and numerical modeling ( Geomorphometry). Early studies in geomorphology are the foundation for pedology, one of two main branches of soil science. *
Hydrology Hydrology () is the scientific study of the movement, distribution, and management of water on Earth and other planets, including the water cycle, water resources, and environmental watershed sustainability. A practitioner of hydrology is calle ...
is predominantly concerned with the amounts and quality of water moving and accumulating on the land surface and in the soils and rocks near the surface and is typified by the hydrological cycle. Thus the field encompasses water in
river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of wate ...
s,
lake A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a Depression (geology), basin, surrounded by land, and distinct from any river or other outlet that serves to feed or drain the lake. Lakes lie on land and are not part of the World Ocean, oce ...
s,
aquifer An aquifer is an underground layer of water-bearing, permeability (Earth sciences), permeable rock, rock fractures, or unconsolidated materials (gravel, sand, or silt). Groundwater from aquifers can be extracted using a water well. Aquifers vary ...
s and to an extent
glacier A glacier (; ) is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. A glacier forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its Ablation#Glaciology, ablation over many years, often Century, centuries. It acquires dis ...
s, in which the field examines the process and dynamics involved in these bodies of water. Hydrology has historically had an important connection with
engineering Engineering is the use of scientific principles to design and build machines, structures, and other items, including bridges, tunnels, roads, vehicles, and buildings. The discipline of engineering encompasses a broad range of more specializ ...
and has thus developed a largely quantitative method in its research; however, it does have an earth science side that embraces the systems approach. Similar to most fields of physical geography it has sub-fields that examine the specific bodies of water or their interaction with other spheres e.g. limnology and ecohydrology. * Glaciology is the study of
glacier A glacier (; ) is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. A glacier forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its Ablation#Glaciology, ablation over many years, often Century, centuries. It acquires dis ...
s and ice sheets, or more commonly the cryosphere or ice and phenomena that involve ice. Glaciology groups the latter (ice sheets) as continental glaciers and the former (glaciers) as alpine glaciers. Although research in the areas is similar to research undertaken into both the dynamics of ice sheets and glaciers, the former tends to be concerned with the interaction of ice sheets with the present climate and the latter with the impact of glaciers on the landscape. Glaciology also has a vast array of sub-fields examining the factors and processes involved in ice sheets and glaciers e.g.
snow Snow comprises individual ice crystals that grow while suspended in the atmosphere—usually within clouds—and then fall, accumulating on the ground where they undergo further changes. It consists of frozen crystalline water throughout ...
hydrology and glacial geology. * Biogeography is the science which deals with geographic patterns of species distribution and the processes that result in these patterns. Biogeography emerged as a field of study as a result of the work of
Alfred Russel Wallace Alfred Russel Wallace (8 January 1823 – 7 November 1913) was a British natural history, naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator. He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution thro ...
, although the field prior to the late twentieth century had largely been viewed as historic in its outlook and descriptive in its approach. The main stimulus for the field since its founding has been that of
evolution Evolution is change in the heredity, heritable Phenotypic trait, characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. These characteristics are the Gene expression, expressions of genes, which are passed on from parent to ...
,
plate tectonics Plate tectonics (from the la, label=Late Latin, tectonicus, from the grc, τεκτονικός, lit=pertaining to building) is the generally accepted scientific theory that considers the Earth's lithosphere to comprise a number of large te ...
and the theory of island biogeography. The field can largely be divided into five sub-fields: island biogeography, paleobiogeography, phylogeography, zoogeography and phytogeography. * Climatology is the study of the climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a long period of time. Climatology examines both the nature of micro (local) and macro (global) climates and the natural and
anthropogenic Anthropogenic ("human" + "generating") is an adjective that may refer to: * Anthropogeny, the study of the origins of humanity Counterintuitively, anthropogenic may also refer to things that have been generated by humans, as follows: * Human im ...
influences on them. The field is also sub-divided largely into the climates of various regions and the study of specific phenomena or time periods e.g. tropical cyclone rainfall climatology and paleoclimatology. * Soil geography deals with the distribution of soils across the terrain. This discipline, between geography and soil science, is fundamental to both physical geography and pedology. Pedology is the study of soils in their natural environment. It deals with pedogenesis, soil morphology, soil classification. Soil geography studies the spatial distribution of soils as it relates to topography, climate (water, air, temperature), soil life (micro-organisms, plants, animals) and mineral materials within soils ( biogeochemical cycles). * Palaeogeography is a cross-disciplinary study that examines the preserved material in the stratigraphic record to determine the distribution of the continents through geologic time. Almost all the evidence for the positions of the continents comes from
geology Geology () is a branch of natural science concerned with Earth and other Astronomical object, astronomical objects, the features or rock (geology), rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change over time. Modern geology ...
in the form of
fossil A fossil (from Classical Latin , ) is any preserved remains, impression, or trace of any once-living thing from a past geological age. Examples include bones, shells, exoskeletons, stone imprints of animals or microbes, objects preserved ...
s or paleomagnetism. The use of these data has resulted in evidence for continental drift,
plate tectonics Plate tectonics (from the la, label=Late Latin, tectonicus, from the grc, τεκτονικός, lit=pertaining to building) is the generally accepted scientific theory that considers the Earth's lithosphere to comprise a number of large te ...
, and supercontinents. This, in turn, has supported palaeogeographic theories such as the Wilson cycle. * Coastal geography is the study of the dynamic interface between the ocean and the land, incorporating both the physical geography (i.e. coastal geomorphology, geology, and oceanography) and the human geography of the coast. It involves an understanding of coastal
weathering Weathering is the deterioration of Rock (geology), rocks, soils and minerals as well as wood and artificial materials through contact with water, atmospheric gases, and biological organisms. Weathering occurs ''in situ'' (on site, with little o ...
processes, particularly wave action, sediment movement and weathering, and also the ways in which humans interact with the coast. Coastal geography, although predominantly geomorphological in its research, is not just concerned with coastal landforms, but also the causes and influences of sea level change. * Oceanography is the branch of physical geography that studies the Earth's oceans and seas. It covers a wide range of topics, including marine organisms and ecosystem dynamics ( biological oceanography); ocean currents, waves, and geophysical fluid dynamics ( physical oceanography); plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor ( geological oceanography); and fluxes of various chemical substances and physical properties within the ocean and across its boundaries ( chemical oceanography). These diverse topics reflect multiple disciplines that oceanographers blend to further knowledge of the world ocean and understanding of processes within it. * Quaternary science is an interdisciplinary field of study focusing on the
Quaternary The Quaternary ( ) is the current and most recent of the three period (geology), periods of the Cenozoic era (geology), Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). It follows the Neogene Period and spa ...
period, which encompasses the last 2.6 million years. The field studies the last ice age and the recent interstadial the Holocene and uses proxy evidence to reconstruct the past environments during this period to infer the climatic and environmental changes that have occurred. * Landscape ecology is a sub-discipline of
ecology Ecology () is the study of the relationships between living organisms, including humans, and their biophysical environment, physical environment. Ecology considers organisms at the individual, population, community (ecology), community, ecosy ...
and geography that address how spatial variation in the landscape affects ecological processes such as the distribution and flow of energy, materials, and individuals in the environment (which, in turn, may influence the distribution of landscape "elements" themselves such as hedgerows). The field was largely funded by the German geographer Carl Troll. Landscape ecology typically deals with problems in an applied and holistic context. The main difference between biogeography and landscape ecology is that the latter is concerned with how flows or energy and material are changed and their impacts on the landscape whereas the former is concerned with the spatial patterns of species and chemical cycles. * Geomatics is the field of gathering, storing, processing, and delivering geographic information, or spatially referenced information. Geomatics includes geodesy (scientific discipline that deals with the measurement and representation of the earth, its gravitational field, and other geodynamic phenomena, such as crustal motion, oceanic tides, and polar motion),
cartography Cartography (; from grc, χάρτης , "papyrus, sheet of paper, map"; and , "write") is the study and practice of making and using maps. Combining science, aesthetics and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality (or an im ...
, geographical information science (GIS) and
remote sensing Remote sensing is the acquisition of information Information is an Abstraction, abstract concept that refers to that which has the power to Communication, inform. At the most fundamental level information pertains to the Interpretation ...
(the short or large-scale acquisition of information of an object or phenomenon, by the use of either recording or real-time sensing devices that are not in physical or intimate contact with the object). * Environmental geography is a branch of geography that analyzes the spatial aspects of interactions between humans and the natural world. The branch bridges the divide between human and physical geography and thus requires an understanding of the dynamics of geology, meteorology, hydrology, biogeography, and geomorphology, as well as the ways in which human societies conceptualize the environment. Although the branch was previously more visible in research than at present with theories such as environmental determinism linking society with the environment. It has largely become the domain of the study of environmental management or anthropogenic influences.


Journals and literature

Mental geography and earth science journals communicate and document the results of research carried out in universities and various other research institutions. Most journals cover a specific publish the research within that field, however unlike human geographers, physical geographers tend to publish in inter-disciplinary journals rather than predominantly geography journal; the research is normally expressed in the form of a scientific paper. Additionally, textbooks, books, and communicate research to laypeople, although these tend to focus on environmental issues or cultural dilemmas. Examples of journals that publish articles from physical geographers are:


Historical evolution of the discipline

From the birth of geography as a science during the Greek classical period and until the late nineteenth century with the birth of anthropogeography (human geography), geography was almost exclusively a natural science: the study of location and descriptive gazetteer of all places of the known world. Several works among the best known during this long period could be cited as an example, from
Strabo Strabo''Strabo'' (meaning "squinty", as in strabismus) was a term employed by the Romans for anyone whose eyes were distorted or deformed. The father of Pompey was called "Pompeius Strabo". A native of Sicily so clear-sighted that he could see ...
(''Geography''), Eratosthenes (''Geographika'') or Dionysius Periegetes (''Periegesis Oiceumene'') in the Ancient Age. In more modern times, these works include the Alexander von Humboldt (''Kosmos'') in the nineteenth century, in which geography is regarded as a physical and natural science through the work ''Summa de Geografía'' of Martín Fernández de Enciso from the early sixteenth century, which indicated for the first time the New World. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a controversy exported from geology, between supporters of James Hutton (uniformitarianism thesis) and
Georges Cuvier Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric, Baron Cuvier (; 23 August 1769 – 13 May 1832), known as Georges Cuvier, was a French natural history, naturalist and zoology, zoologist, sometimes referred to as the "founding father of paleontology". Cuvier ...
(catastrophism) strongly influenced the field of geography, because geography at this time was a natural science. Two historical events during the nineteenth century had a great effect on the further development of physical geography. The first was the European colonial expansion in
Asia Asia (, ) is one of the world's most notable geographical regions, which is either considered a continent in its own right or a subcontinent of Eurasia, which shares the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with Africa Africa is ...
,
Africa Africa is the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent, after Asia in both cases. At about 30.3 million km2 (11.7 million square miles) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of Earth's total surface area ...
,
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of , Australia is the largest country by ...
and even America in search of raw materials required by industries during the
Industrial Revolution The Industrial Revolution was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Great Britain, continental Europe, and the United States, that occurred during the period from around 1760 to about 1820–1840. This transition included going fr ...
. This fostered the creation of geography departments in the universities of the colonial powers and the birth and development of national geographical societies, thus giving rise to the process identified by Horacio Capel as the institutionalization of geography. The exploration of Siberia is an example. In the mid-eighteenth century, many geographers were sent to perform geographical surveys in the area of Arctic
Siberia Siberia ( ; rus, Сибирь, r=Sibir', p=sʲɪˈbʲirʲ, a=Ru-Сибирь.ogg) is an extensive region, geographical region, constituting all of North Asia, from the Ural Mountains in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. It has been a ...
. Among these is who is considered the patriarch of Russian geography, Mikhail Lomonosov. In the mid-1750s Lomonosov began working in the Department of Geography, Academy of Sciences to conduct research in Siberia. They showed the organic origin of soil and developed a comprehensive law on the movement of the ice, thereby founding a new branch of geography: glaciology. In 1755 on his initiative was founded Moscow University where he promoted the study of geography and the training of geographers. In 1758 he was appointed director of the Department of Geography, Academy of Sciences, a post from which would develop a working methodology for geographical survey guided by the most important long expeditions and geographical studies in Russia. The contributions of the Russian school became more frequent through his disciples, and in the nineteenth century we have great geographers such as Vasily Dokuchaev who performed works of great importance as a "principle of comprehensive analysis of the territory" and "Russian Chernozem". In the latter, he introduced the geographical concept of soil, as distinct from a simple geological stratum, and thus found a new geographic area of study: pedology. Climatology also received a strong boost from the Russian school by Wladimir Köppen whose main contribution, climate classification, is still valid today. However, this great geographer also contributed to the paleogeography through his work "The climates of the geological past" which is considered the father of paleoclimatology. Russian geographers who made great contributions to the discipline in this period were: NM Sibirtsev, Pyotr Semyonov, K.D. Glinka, Neustrayev, among others. The second important process is the theory of evolution by Darwin in mid-century (which decisively influenced the work of Friedrich Ratzel, who had academic training as a zoologist and was a follower of Darwin's ideas) which meant an important impetus in the development of Biogeography. Another major event in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries took place in the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...
. William Morris Davis not only made important contributions to the establishment of discipline in his country but revolutionized the field to develop cycle of erosion theory which he proposed as a paradigm for geography in general, although in actually served as a paradigm for physical geography. His theory explained that mountains and other landforms are shaped by factors that are manifested cyclically. He explained that the cycle begins with the lifting of the relief by geological processes (faults, volcanism, tectonic upheaval, etc.). Factors such as rivers and runoff begin to create V-shaped valleys between the mountains (the stage called "youth"). During this first stage, the terrain is steeper and more irregular. Over time, the currents can carve wider valleys ("maturity") and then start to wind, towering hills only ("senescence"). Finally, everything comes to what is a plain flat plain at the lowest elevation possible (called "baseline") This plain was called by Davis' " peneplain" meaning "almost plain" Then river rejuvenation occurs and there is another mountain lift and the cycle continues. Although Davis's theory is not entirely accurate, it was absolutely revolutionary and unique in its time and helped to modernize and create a geography subfield of geomorphology. Its implications prompted a myriad of research in various branches of physical geography. In the case of the Paleogeography, this theory provided a model for understanding the evolution of the landscape. For hydrology, glaciology, and climatology as a boost investigated as studying geographic factors shape the landscape and affect the cycle. The bulk of the work of William Morris Davis led to the development of a new branch of physical geography: Geomorphology whose contents until then did not differ from the rest of geography. Shortly after this branch would present a major development. Some of his disciples made significant contributions to various branches of physical geography such as Curtis Marbut and his invaluable legacy for Pedology, Mark Jefferson, Isaiah Bowman, among others.


Notable physical geographers

* Eratosthenes (276194 BC) who invented the discipline of geography. He made the first known reliable estimation of the Earth's size. He is considered the father of mathematical geography and geodesy.Avraham Ariel, Nora Ariel Berger (2006)."
Plotting the globe: stories of meridians, parallels, and the international
'". Greenwood Publishing Group. p.12.
* Ptolemy ( c. 90c. 168), who compiled Greek and Roman knowledge to produce the book '' Geographia''. * Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī (9731048 AD), considered the father of geodesy.Akbar S. Ahmed (1984). "Al-Beruni: The First Anthropologist", ''RAIN'' 60, pp. 9–10.H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", ''Cooperation South Journal'' 1. * Ibn Sina (Avicenna, 980–1037), who formulated the law of superposition and concept of uniformitarianism in ''Kitāb al-Šifāʾ'' (also called '' The Book of Healing)''. * Muhammad al-Idrisi (Dreses, 1100), who drew the '' Tabula Rogeriana'', the most accurate world map in pre-modern times.S. P. Scott (1904), ''History of the Moorish Empire'', pp. 461–2: * Piri Reis (1465c. 1554), whose Piri Reis map is the oldest surviving world map to include the
Americas The Americas, which are sometimes collectively called America, are a landmass comprising the totality of North America, North and South America. The Americas make up most of the land in Earth's Western Hemisphere and comprise the New World. ...
and possibly
Antarctica Antarctica () is Earth's southernmost and least-populated continent. Situated almost entirely south of the Antarctic Circle and surrounded by the Southern Ocean, it contains the geographic South Pole. Antarctica is the fifth-largest contine ...
* Gerardus Mercator (1512–1594), an innovative
cartographer Cartography (; from grc, χάρτης , "papyrus, sheet of paper, map"; and , "write") is the study and practice of making and using maps. Combining science, aesthetics and technique, cartography builds on the premise that reality (or an im ...
and originator of the Mercator projection. * Bernhardus Varenius (1622–1650), Wrote his important work "General Geography" (1650), first overview of the geography, the foundation of modern geography. * Mikhail Lomonosov (1711–1765), father of Russian geography and founded the study of glaciology. * Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), considered the father of modern geography. Published '' Cosmos'' and founded the study of biogeography. * Arnold Henry Guyot (1807–1884), who noted the structure of glaciers and advanced the understanding of glacial motion, especially in fast ice flow. * Louis Agassiz (1807–1873), the author of a glacial theory which disputed the notion of a steady-cooling Earth. *
Alfred Russel Wallace Alfred Russel Wallace (8 January 1823 – 7 November 1913) was a British natural history, naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator. He is best known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution thro ...
(1823–1913), founder of modern biogeography and the Wallace line. * Vasily Dokuchaev (1840–1903), patriarch of Russian geography and founder of pedology. * Wladimir Peter Köppen (1846–1940), developer of most important climate classification and founder of Paleoclimatology. * William Morris Davis (1850–1934), father of American geography, founder of Geomorphology and developer of the geographical cycle theory. * John Francon Williams
FRGS The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), often shortened to RGS, is a learned society and professional body for geography based in the United Kingdom. Founded in 1830 for the advancement of geographical scien ...
(1854-1911), wrote his seminal work ''Geography of the Oceans'' published in 1881. * Walther Penck (1888–1923), proponent of the cycle of erosion and the simultaneous occurrence of uplift and denudation. * Sir
Ernest Shackleton Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (15 February 1874 – 5 January 1922) was an Anglo-Irish Antarctic explorer who led three British expeditions to the Antarctic. He was one of the principal figures of the period known as the Heroic Age of An ...
(1874–1922), Antarctic explorer during the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. * Robert E. Horton (1875–1945), founder of modern hydrology and concepts such as infiltration capacity and overland flow. * J Harlen Bretz (1882–1981), pioneer of research into the shaping of landscapes by catastrophic floods, most notably the Bretz (Missoula) floods. * Luis García Sáinz (1894–1965), pioneer of physical geography in Spain. * Willi Dansgaard (1922–2011), palaeoclimatologist and quaternary scientist, instrumental in the use of oxygen-isotope dating and co-identifier of Dansgaard-Oeschger events. * Hans Oeschger (1927–1998), palaeoclimatologist and pioneer in ice core research, co-identifier of Dansgaard-Orschger events. * Richard Chorley (1927–2002), a key contributor to the quantitative revolution and the use of systems theory in geography. * Sir Nicholas Shackleton (1937–2006), who demonstrated that oscillations in climate over the past few million years could be correlated with variations in the orbital and positional relationship between the Earth and the Sun.


See also

* Areography (geography of Mars) * Atmosphere of Earth * Concepts and Techniques in Modern Geography * Earth system science * Environmental science * Environmental studies *
Geographic information science Geographic information science or geographical information science (GIScience or GISc) is the scientific discipline that studies geographic data and information, geographic information, including how it represents phenomena in the real world, how i ...
*
Geographic information system A geographic information system (GIS) is a type of database In computing, a database is an organized collection of Data (computing), data stored and accessed electronically. Small databases can be stored on a file system, while large database ...
* Geostatistics *
Global Positioning System The Global Positioning System (GPS), originally Navstar GPS, is a Radionavigation-satellite service, satellite-based radionavigation system owned by the United States government and operated by the United States Space Force. It is one of t ...
*
Planetary science Planetary science (or more rarely, planetology) is the scientific study of planets (including Earth), Astronomical object, celestial bodies (such as Natural satellite, moons, Asteroid, asteroids, Comets, comets) and planetary systems (in particula ...
* Physiographic regions of the world * Technical geography


References


Further reading

* * * Pidwirny, Michael. (2014). ''Glossary of Terms for Physical Geography.'' Planet Earth Publishing, Kelowna, Canada. . Available o
Google Play
* Pidwirny, Michael. (2014). ''Understanding Physical Geography.'' Planet Earth Publishing, Kelowna, Canada. . Available o
Google Play
* Reynolds, Stephen J. et al. (2015). ''Exploring Physical Geography.'' Visual Textbook, Featuring more than 2500 Photographies & Illustrations McGraw-Hill Education, New York. * * * *


External links


Physiography by T.X. Huxley, 1878
full text, physical geography of the Thames River Basin

full text

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