Physical geography

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

Within the body of physical geography, the Earth is often split either into several spheres or environments, the main spheres being the atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and pedosphere. Research in physical geography is often interdisciplinary and uses the systems approach.



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

  • Geomorphology is the science 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 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 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 rivers, lakes, aquifers and to an extent glaciers, in which the field examines the process and dynamics involved in these bodies of water. Hydrology has historically had an important connection with engineering 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.

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