Physical Geography: Definition, Examples, Scope, Nature, Branches and Importance of Physical Geography

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Physical geography and human geography are the two main areas of focus in which the discipline of geography is broken down into; these two main areas of geography are similar in ways that they both use a spatial perspective, and they both include the study of place and the comparison of one place with another.

Definition of Physical Geography

Physical geography is the spatial study of natural phenomena that make up the environment, such as landforms, river, weather, mountains, plants, climate, soils, and any other physical aspects of the earths surface. Physical geography focuses on geography as a form of earth science. It tends to emphasize the main physical parts of the earth such as the lithosphere (hard surface layer), the atmosphere (the moving air), the hydrosphere (water bodies), and the biosphere (living organisms) and the relationships that exist between these parts. Physical geography was initially subdivided intogeomorphology,climatology,hydrology, andbiogeography, but is it now more holistic in nature that cut across other related field of geography.

Sub-Branches of Physical Geography

The major branches of physical geography include the following:

  • Geomorphology– this is concerned with the origin and solution of topographic features created by physical, chemical and biological processes operating at or near the earth surface. Geomorphological research in geography emphasizes the analysis and prediction of Earth surface processes and forms. A geomorphologist would ask questions such as: What are the different landforms, where the different landforms are; why they are where they are and how are they form in the first place.
  • Glaciology – is the study ofglaciersandice sheets, or more commonly thecryosphereoriceand the changes that involve ice.
  • Coastal geography– is the study of the dynamic interface between the ocean and the land, this field of study incorporates both the physical geography (coastal geomorphology, geology, and oceanography) and the human geography of the coast. It entails an understanding of coastalweatheringprocesses such as wave action, sediment movement and weathering, and also the different ways humans interfere with the coast.
  • Climatology– this is the study of the condition of the atmosphere with respect to the earth’s surface. A climatologist seeks to understand: The different climate patterns found on earth, the processes that cause these different climate patterns to take place in specific places (i.e. why are there different climate types), the places where these climates occur, how and why climates change over time.
  • Meteorology– the study of atmospheric weather processes, a meteorologist want to understand the different atmospheric processes that create our weather, where do these weather phenomena occur, how and why does the planetary weather system work the way it does.
  • Biogeography– is the study of the distribution of organisms at various spatial and temporal scales, as well as the processes that produce these distribution patterns. Biogeography lies at the intersection of several different fields and is practiced by both geographers and biologists. A biogeographer studies the geographic distribution of plants and animals on the earth.
  • Hydrology– this is the study of water resource, water cycle, movement and distribution of quality water on earth and other planets.
  • Oceanography– the study of physical and biological aspects of the ocean, oceanographer researches the coastal environments of the planet and finds out how humans, coastal life, and coastal physical features interact with each other.
  • Pedology– the study of soils in their natural environment. Pedology is one of the two main branches ofsoil science, the other is known as edaphology. Pedology mainly deals withpedogenesis,soil morphology,soil classification. In physical geography pedology is largely studied due to the numerous interactions between climate (water, air, temperature), soil life (micro-organisms, plants, animals), the mineral materials within soils (biogeochemical cycles) and its position and effects on the landscape such aslateralization.
  • Some physical geographers study the earths place in the solar system. Others are environmental geographers, part of an emerging field that studies the spatial aspects and cultural perceptions of the natural environment. Environmental geography requires an understanding of both physical and human geography, as well as an understanding of how humans conceptualize their environment and the physical landscape.

Importance of Physical Geography

  1. Physical geography is important because people love to learn about the earth and what goes on in the physical environment and beyond..
  2. The study of physical geography enables students to research and know more about the various things that are happening in the world and how those things influence their lives. For example, how human activities has huge influence towards our earth.
  3. Physical geography gives a broader knowledge about other related field of geography

For example, physical geography helps us to understanding history, economics, weather, resource management, and humanity in general.

  1. Through the study of physical geography, we understand that mountains divide us and hide precious minerals and metals which have great value to the common man and his environment.
  2. This branch of geography helps us determine what parts of our planet are wet, dry, cold, warm and also which part experience powerful hurricanes, and which get torrential rainstorms.

In conclusion

Physical geography is the study of the interactions between the Earths, landscapes, oceans, climate system plants, animals and humans. Physical geography is therefore a highly relevant and topical subject for society since the the processes studied affect our daily lives. The many ways of solving many of the worlds challenges can only be understood by the full knowledge of physical geography. For example, every time there is a major natural disaster such as earthquake, volcanic eruption, wildfire, drought, flood landslide or tropical storm, these can only be understood through a collective understanding of land, ocean, atmosphere, human interactions. Sometimes what seems to be a natural disaster (e.g. a major flood event) has been caused by human activity (e.g. deforestation of hillsides in the upper parts of river basins), thereby worsening the event. Similarly, the same humans have a creative ability to come up with lasting solutions to major problems or at least make things more resilient to disasters (for example, buildings with engineering design to allow them to stay standing during an earthquake). These solutions can only work best if the way the Earths system works is fully understood by man. To gain this understandinghas everything to do withphysical geography. Having a better understandingabout climate change and its impacts is necessary so that we can adapt to changes and mitigate effects to slow down the damage to human life and his environment.

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