The subject of Geography is divided into two main fields, Human geography, and Physical Geography. Human Geography deals with how human activity affects or is influenced by the earth’s surface, while Physical Geography is a fundamental subject of earth science, and deals with the physical features and processes associated with the earth’s surface. It deals with the patterns in the natural environment such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere. In physical geography, we discuss two things; physical features and physical processes. Here the “physical features” mean the natural features on the earth’s surface. Physical/natural features are also known as the “landform”. While “physical processes” stands for the natural forces that change Earth’s physical features, including forces that build up and wear down Earth’s surface.

Scope of Physical Geography

As we know physical geography is a subfield of geography that focuses on understanding the Earth’s natural features and processes. It encompasses a wide range of topics related to the four spheres of the earth i.e. lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere. The study of the four spheres helps geographers to classify the subject into four main branches, which are;

  1. The study of the lithosphere is called geomorphology.
  2. The study of the hydrosphere is called hydrology.
  3. The study of the biosphere is called biogeography.
  4. The study of the atmosphere is called atmospheric science (meteorology, climatology).

Branches of Physical Geography

1. Geomorphology

Geomorphology is a branch of Earth science that is about the morphology of the Earth and focuses on the study of landforms, processes, and the development and evolution of the Earth’s surface. In geomorphology, we study the physical features of the Earth’s terrain and learn about the processes that shape and modify the landscape with time. The job of a geomorphologist is to investigate the forces and determinants, such as weathering, erosion, tectonic activity, and human activities, that contribute to the formation and alteration of landforms. Topics included in Geomorphology

Salient aspects of geomorphology include the observation and analysis of landforms like mountains, valleys, hills, plains, and coastal features. Geomorphology also includes the study of the processes that lead to the creation and modification of these landforms. Techniques like field surveys, laboratory, remote sensing, and numerical modeling help the experts to investigate the dynamic interaction among geological, hydrological, climatic, and biological forces shaping the Earth’s surface. The knowledge obtained from geomorphological studies is necessary for understanding landscape evolution, environmental management, and natural hazard assessment.

2. Atmospheric Science (Meteorology, Climatology)


Meteorology is the scientific study of the atmosphere, focusing on weather processes and phenomena. Meteorologists analyze and interpret atmospheric conditions to understand and predict weather patterns. This field encompasses a wide range of topics, including temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind patterns, precipitation, and atmospheric composition.

Meteorologists use various tools and instruments, such as weather satellites, radar systems, weather balloons, and ground-based weather stations, to collect data about the atmosphere. They also utilize computer models and simulations to make weather forecasts.

The primary goals of meteorology include:

    1. Weather Forecasting: Predicting short-term and long-term weather conditions to help individuals, businesses, and governments plan and make informed decisions.
    2. Climate Studies: Examining long-term patterns and trends in weather to understand climate variations and changes over extended periods.
    3. Severe Weather Prediction: Identifying and forecasting severe weather events like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and heat waves to mitigate their impact on communities.
    4. Air Quality Monitoring: Studying the composition of the atmosphere to assess air quality and its impact on human health and the environment.


Climatology is the scientific study of climate, which involves analyzing long-term patterns and averages of weather conditions in a particular region or the entire Earth. It encompasses the examination of various atmospheric and environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind patterns, and atmospheric pressure, over extended periods. Topics included in Climatology

Climatologists use historical weather data, observational records, and advanced modeling techniques to understand the complex interactions within the Earth’s atmosphere and how they influence climate patterns. This field aims to identify trends, variations, and the underlying mechanisms driving changes in climate over time.

Climatology plays a crucial role in addressing a wide range of issues, including climate change, natural climate variability, and its impact on ecosystems, agriculture, and human societies. Climatologists work to improve predictions, develop climate models, and contribute to the understanding of the Earth’s climate system. They also play a vital role in informing policy decisions related to environmental issues and sustainable development.

3. Hydrology

Hydrology is the scientific study of the distribution, movement, and properties of water in the Earth’s atmosphere and on its surface. It encompasses the study of water in various forms, including liquid, solid (ice and snow), and vapor. Hydrologists examine the occurrence and circulation of water, its physical and chemical properties, and how it interacts with the environment. Topics included in Hydrology

Key aspects of hydrology include:

  1. Precipitation: The process by which water vapor in the atmosphere condenses and falls to the Earth’s surface as rain, snow, sleet, or hail.
  2. Evaporation: The transformation of liquid water into water vapor, typically from the Earth’s surface, such as lakes, rivers, and soil.
  3. Transpiration: The release of water vapor from plants through tiny pores in their leaves, known as stomata.
  4. Runoff: The movement of water over the land surface and its eventual entry into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Runoff is influenced by factors such as topography, soil type, vegetation, and land use.
  5. Groundwater: The study of water that infiltrates the ground and is stored in underground aquifers. Hydrogeology is a sub-discipline that specifically focuses on groundwater.
  6. Hydraulic processes: The study of the behavior of water in natural and artificial channels, including rivers, streams, and pipelines.
  7. Water quality: Assessing the chemical and biological characteristics of water, including pollutants and contaminants, to understand and manage water resources sustainably.

Hydrology plays a crucial role in various fields, such as water resource management, environmental science, civil engineering, agriculture, and meteorology. It helps in understanding and addressing issues related to water availability, flood control, drought mitigation, water pollution, and ecosystem health.

4. Biogeography

Biogeography is the scientific study of the distribution of living organisms across the earth surface, underneath thehydrosphere, and atmosphere. It seeks to understand the patterns and processes that influence the geographic distribution of species and ecosystems. Biogeographers examine how factors such as climate, geography, geology, and historical events contribute to the spatial arrangement of plants, animals, and other organisms. Topic included in Biography

There are several key aspects of biogeography:

  1. Distribution Patterns: Biogeographers analyze the distribution patterns of species and ecosystems at different scales, ranging from local to global. They seek to identify regions with similar assemblages of species, known as biogeographic regions.
  2. Historical Biogeography: Understanding the historical relationships between continents, the movement of land masses (plate tectonics), and evolutionary processes is crucial. For example, the breakup of continents or the formation of mountain ranges can influence the distribution of species.
  3. Ecological Biogeography: This aspect focuses on the current ecological factors influencing species distribution. Climate, habitat types, and interactions with other species all play a role in shaping the distribution of organisms.
  4. Island Biogeography: Islands provide unique settings for studying biogeography due to their isolation. The theory of island biogeography, developed by Robert MacArthur and E.O. Wilson, explores how island size and distance from the mainland affect species richness and diversity.
  5. Conservation Biogeography: Biogeography plays a crucial role in conservation biology by helping scientists understand where species are located, where they are most vulnerable, and how to design effective conservation strategies.
  6. Biogeographic Realms: The Earth is divided into biogeographic realms based on patterns of plant and animal distribution. These realms represent areas with distinct biotas and are used as a framework for understanding global biodiversity.

Overall, biogeography is an interdisciplinary field that combines elements of biology, geology, climatology, and ecology to unravel the complex relationships between living organisms and their environments across space and time.

5. Other Branches

Apart from the above-mentioned fundamental sub-fields, there are other branches which widely studied under physical geography. These branches include;

  1. Pedology: Analyzes the composition, structure, and properties of soils, and how they influence plant growth, land use, and ecosystem health. Topics included in Soil Sciences
  2. Natural Hazards: Studies natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, and volcanic eruptions to understand their causes, impacts, and mitigation strategies.
  3. Environmental Science: Physical geography contributes to environmental science by examining the interactions between the physical environment and human activities, including issues like pollution, deforestation, and climate change.
  4. Remote Sensing and GIS (Geographic Information Systems): Utilizes technology to collect and analyze spatial data, enabling the creation of maps and the monitoring of changes in the Earth’s surface over time.
  5. Oceanography: Focuses on the study of the world’s oceans, including their physical properties, currents, marine life, and the impact of human activities on marine ecosystems.