Physical Geography

Physical geography focuses on geography as an Earth science (and is sometimes called Earth System Science).

Physical geography is a branch of geography that focuses on the study of the natural features and processes of the Earth’s surface. It includes the examination of landforms, climate, vegetation, soils, and water resources. Physical geographers use a range of scientific methods and tools to analyze and understand the complex interactions between the Earth’s physical systems.

Learn about the different branches of geography that fall under the physical geography category: climatology, geomorphology, biogeography, and more.

In March the ice arch starting to disintegrate. By April, satellite imagery was showing the crumbling of the ice pack behind the ice arch. By May, sea ice was flowing freely through Nares Strait. Images: NASA.

What is an Ice Arch?

Caitlin Dempsey

An ice arch forms when sea ice buckles under pressure, creating a natural arch-shaped structure in polar regions, often blocking the movement of ice.

A polynya that has formed in an embayment where the Venable Ice Shelf meets Farwell Island in Antartica. Photo: John Sonntag/NASA, public domain.

Polynyas: Natural Openings in Polar Ice

Caitlin Dempsey

Explore the geography of polynyas, unique open water areas in polar ice, and learn about their formation, ecological impact, and role in climate dynamics.

A satellite image of a section of Antartica with brown stains of Penguin guano.

Tracking Penguin Colonies Through Their Droppings

Elizabeth Borneman

Researchers are using satellite imagery to map Antarctica’s penguin population and estimating their numbers based on the large guano stains left behind.

When Rivers Become Ice Roads

Caitlin Dempsey

During the cold winter months, parts of Canada's Mackenzie River become a ice road that trucks up to 22,000 pounds can navigate.

A view across forest covered mountains with a band of fog stretching just below the peak of the far mountain.

Will Cool Air Pooling Protect Some Forests from Climate Change?

Caitlin Dempsey

Researchers looked at the link between cool air pooling and cold-adapted forest composition.

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