NASA true-color image of the Earth's surface and atmosphere.

Physical geography (also known as physiography) is one of the three main branches of geography.[1][2][3][4][5] Physical geography is the branch of natural science 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.[4][5][6] The three branches have significant overlap, however.


A natural arch.

Physical geography can be divided into several branches or related fields, as follows:

Meander formation.

Journals and literature

Main category: Geography Journals

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 (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 (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, Africa, Australia and even America in search of raw materials required by industries during the Industrial Revolution. 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. 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. 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

For a more comprehensive list, see List of geographers.

Alexander von Humboldt, considered to be the founding father of physical geography.

See also


  1. ^ "1(b). Elements of Geography".
  2. ^ Pidwirny, Michael; Jones, Scott (1999–2015). "Physical Geography".
  3. ^ Marsh, William M.; Kaufman, Martin M. (2013). Physical Geography: Great Systems and Global Environments. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521764285.
  4. ^ a b Dahlman, Carl; Renwick, William (2014). Introduction to Geography: People, Places & Environment (6 ed.). Pearson. ISBN 9780137504510. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  5. ^ a b Haidu, Ionel (2016). "What is Technical Geography" (PDF). Geographia Technica. 11 (1): 1–5. doi:10.21163/GT_2016.111.01. Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 January 2022. Retrieved 22 July 2022.
  6. ^ Dada, Anup (December 2022). "The Process of Geomorphology Related to Sub Branches of Physical Geography". Black Sea Journal of Scientific Research. 59 (3): 1–2. doi:10.36962/GBSSJAR/59.3.004 (inactive 2024-02-14).((cite journal)): CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of February 2024 (link)
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Physical Geography: Defining Physical Geography". Dartmouth College Library. Retrieved 2019-11-18.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Physical Geography". University of Nevada, Reno.
  9. ^ "Subdisciplines of Geography". Civil Service India (PNG). Soils Geography lies between Physical Geography and Pedology
  10. ^ Bridges, E. M. (1981). "Soil geography: a subject transformed". Progress in Physical Geography: Earth and Environment. 5 (3): 398–407. Bibcode:1981PrPG....5..398B. doi:10.1177/030913338100500303. S2CID 131268490. (Soil geography) is a branch of study which lies between geography and soil science and is to be found as a fundamental part of both subjects (Bridges and Davidson, 1981)
  11. ^ Degórski, Marek (2004). "Geografia gleb jako dyscyplina flzycznogeograficzna" [Soil geography as a physical geography discipline] (PDF). Przeglad Geograficzny (in Polish). 76. Warsaw: Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization PAS: 271–288. ISSN 0033-2143 – via RCIN. soil geography may be defined as a scientific discipline - within both geography and soil science - that deals with the distribution of soils across the Earth's surface
  12. ^ Eratosthenes (2010). Eratosthenes' "Geography". Fragments collected and translated, with commentary and additional material by Duane W. Roller. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-14267-8.
  13. ^ a b Avraham Ariel, Nora Ariel Berger (2006)."Plotting the globe: stories of meridians, parallels, and the international". Greenwood Publishing Group. p.12. ISBN 0-275-98895-3
  14. ^ Jennifer Fandel (2006)."The Metric System". The Creative Company. p. 4. ISBN 1-58341-430-4
  15. ^ Akbar S. Ahmed (1984). "Al-Beruni: The First Anthropologist", RAIN 60, pp. 9–10.
  16. ^ H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", Cooperation South Journal 1.
  17. ^ S. P. Scott (1904), History of the Moorish Empire, pp. 461–2:

    The compilation of Edrisi marks an era in the history of science. Not only is its historical information most interesting and valuable, but its descriptions of many parts of the earth are still authoritative. For three centuries geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes which form the Nile, as delineated in his work, does not differ greatly from that established by Baker and Stanley more than seven hundred years afterward, and their number is the same.

Further reading