Physical geography

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True-color image of the Earth's surface and atmosphere. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center image. Land ocean ice cloud 1024.jpg
True-color image of the Earth's surface and atmosphere. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center image.

Physical geography (also known as geosystems or physiography) is one of the two major sub-fields of geography. [1] [2] [3] Physical geography is the branch of natural science which deals with the study of processes and patterns in the natural environment like the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere, as opposed to the cultural or built environment, the domain of human geography.

Geography The science that studies the terrestrial surface, the societies that inhabit it and the territories, landscapes, places or regions that form it

Geography is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and planets. The first person to use the word γεωγραφία was Eratosthenes. Geography is an all-encompassing discipline that seeks an understanding of Earth and its human and natural complexities—not merely where objects are, but also how they have changed and come to be.

Natural science Branch of science about the natural world

Natural science is a branch of science concerned with the description, prediction, and understanding of natural phenomena, based on empirical evidence from observation and experimentation. Mechanisms such as peer review and repeatability of findings are used to try to ensure the validity of scientific advances.

Natural environment All living and non-living things occurring naturally, generally on Earth

The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally, meaning in this case not artificial. The term is most often applied to the Earth or some parts of Earth. This environment encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, weather and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity. The concept of the natural environment can be distinguished as components:



A natural arch. Delicate Arch LaSalle.jpg
A natural arch.

Physical Geography can be divided into several sub-fields, as follows:

Geomorphology The scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them

Geomorphology is the scientific study of the origin and evolution of topographic and bathymetric features created by physical, chemical or biological processes operating at or near the Earth's surface. Geomorphologists seek to understand why landscapes look the way they do, to understand landform history and dynamics and to predict changes through a combination of field observations, physical experiments and numerical modeling. Geomorphologists work within disciplines such as physical geography, geology, geodesy, engineering geology, archaeology, climatology and geotechnical engineering. This broad base of interests contributes to many research styles and interests within the field.

Lithosphere The rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet or natural satellite that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties

A lithosphere is the rigid, outermost shell of a terrestrial-type planet, or natural satellite, that is defined by its rigid mechanical properties. On Earth, it is composed of the crust and the portion of the upper mantle that behaves elastically on time scales of thousands of years or greater. The outermost shell of a rocky planet, the crust, is defined on the basis of its chemistry and mineralogy.

Desert Area of land where little precipitation occurs

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 the processes of denudation. About one-third of the land surface of the world is arid or semi-arid. This includes much of the polar regions where little precipitation occurs and which are sometimes called polar deserts or "cold deserts". Deserts can be classified by the amount of precipitation that falls, by the temperature that prevails, by the causes of desertification or by their geographical location.

Meander formation. Meander-en.svg
Meander formation.
Hydrology The science of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets

Hydrology is the scientific study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the water cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability. A practitioner of hydrology is a hydrologist, working within the fields of earth or environmental science, physical geography, geology or civil and environmental engineering. Using various analytical methods and scientific techniques, they collect and analyze data to help solve water related problems such as environmental preservation, natural disasters, and water management.

River Natural flowing watercourse

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 water. Small rivers can be referred to using names such as stream, creek, brook, rivulet, and rill. There are no official definitions for the generic term river as applied to geographic features, although in some countries or communities a stream is defined by its size. Many names for small rivers are specific to geographic location; examples are "run" in some parts of the United States, "burn" in Scotland and northeast England, and "beck" in northern England. Sometimes a river is defined as being larger than a creek, but not always: the language is vague.

Lake A body of relatively still water, in a basin surrounded by land

A lake is an area filled with water, localized in a basin, that is surrounded by land, apart from any river or other outlet that serves to feed or drain the lake. Lakes lie on land and are not part of the ocean, and therefore are distinct from lagoons, and are also larger and deeper than ponds, though there are no official or scientific definitions. Lakes can be contrasted with rivers or streams, which are usually flowing. Most lakes are fed and drained by rivers and streams.

Journals and literature

Physical 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 field and 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 magazines on geography 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:

<i>Earth Surface Processes and Landforms</i> journal

Earth Surface Processes and Landforms is a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by John Wiley & Sons on behalf of the British Society for Geomorphology. It covers geomorphology and more in general all aspects of Earth sciences dealing with the Earth surface. The journal was established in 1976 as Earth Surface Processes, obtaining its current name in 1981. The journal primarily publishes original research papers. It also publishes Earth Surface Exchanges which include commentaries on issues of particular geomorphological interest, discussions of published papers, shorter journal articles suitable for rapid publication, and commissioned reviews on key aspects of geomorphological science. Foci include the physical geography of rivers, valleys, glaciers, mountains, hills, slopes, coasts, deserts, and estuary environments, along with research into Holocene, Pleistocene, or Quaternary science. The editor-in-chief is Stuart Lane.

<i>Journal of Biogeography</i> journal

The Journal of Biogeography is a peer-reviewed scientific journal in biogeography that was established in 1974. It covers aspects of spatial, ecological, and historical biogeography. The founding editor-in-chief was David Watts, followed by John Flenley and Philip Stott (1987-2004). The current editor-in-chief is Peter Linder.

The Journal of Quaternary Science is a peer-reviewed academic journal published on behalf of the Quaternary Research Association. It covers research on any aspect of quaternary science. The journal publishes predominantly research articles with two thematic issues published annually, although discussions and letters are occasionally published along with invited reviews. According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal has a 2012 impact factor of 2.939.

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 Dionisio Periegetes (Periegesis Oiceumene) in the Ancient Age to the Alexander von Humboldt (Kosmos) in the nineteenth century, in which geography is regarded as a physical and natural science, of course, 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.

Strabo Greek geographer, philosopher and historian

Strabo was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Eratosthenes ancient Greek scientist

Eratosthenes of Cyrene was a Greek mathematician, geographer, poet, astronomer, and music theorist. He was a man of learning, becoming the chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria. He invented the discipline of geography, including the terminology used today.

Alexander von Humboldt Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer (1769–1859)

Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt was a Prussian polymath, geographer, naturalist, explorer, and influential proponent of Romantic philosophy and science. He was the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher, and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). Humboldt's quantitative work on botanical geography laid the foundation for the field of biogeography. Humboldt's advocacy of long-term systematic geophysical measurement laid the foundation for modern geomagnetic and meteorological monitoring.

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.

One of the most prolific empires in this regard was Russia. In the mid-eighteenth century, many geographers were sent by the Russian altamirazgo 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 that still governs the basics, 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 strata, and thus founding 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 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 geographical cycle 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 the influence of a number of factors that are manifested in the geographical cycle. He explained that the cycle begins with the lifting of the relief by geological processes (faults, volcanism, tectonic upheaval, etc.). Geographical factors such as rivers and runoff begins to create the 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 the 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 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

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

See also

Related Research Articles

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  1. Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition, by M. Pidwirny, 2006
  2. Pidwirny, Michael; Jones, Scott (1999–2015). "Physical Geography".
  3. Marsh, William M.; Kaufman, Martin M. (2013). Physical Geography: Great Systems and Global Environments. Cambridege University Press. ISBN   9780521764285.
  4. 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.
  5. 1 2 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
  6. Jennifer Fandel (2006)." The Metric System ". The Creative Company. p.4. ISBN   1-58341-430-4
  7. Akbar S. Ahmed (1984). "Al-Beruni: The First Anthropologist", RAIN60, p. 9-10.
  8. H. Mowlana (2001). "Information in the Arab World", Cooperation South Journal1.
  9. 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 afterwards, and their number is the same.

Further reading