What are the Branches of Geography?

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Geography is divided into two main branches: human geography and physical geography. There are additional branches in geography such as regional geography, cartography, and integrated geography. 

Human Geography

This is one of the major branches in geography and it mainly covers studies of the human race. More: Sub-branches of Human Geography

This normally involves understanding a human population’s backgrounds, how the interactions and the perceptions that members of that human population have for various ideologies affecting them.

In addition to this, the discipline also studies the way in which the groups of people that inhabit the Earth organize themselves in the particular regions that they inhabit.

A view of a suburban subdivision being developed in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Image: USGS, public domain.
Urban geography is the study of human populations in a built environment. A view of a suburban subdivision being developed in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Image: USGS, public domain.

As a matter of fact, many other branches of geography normally fall under human geography.

Modern applications of human geography can include mapping human migration, showing the movement of food resources and how they impact communities, and the impacts climate change can have on humans living in vulnerable areas.

More: Sub-branches of human geography

Also: What is the AP Human Geography Exam?

Physical Geography

Physical geography is a major branch of the science of geography, and it mainly deals with the study of the natural characteristics of the Earth. Related: Sub-branches of Physical Geography

It covers both features that are on the Earth’s surface as well as those near it.

Physical geography allows us to chart landmasses, but physical geography is also being used to see what lies beneath the Earth’s ice caps and oceans.

A melting ice floe in the Arctic Ocean,  August 12, 2009. Photo: Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard. Public domain.
Glaciology is the study of glaciers and other ice related phenomena. A melting ice floe in the Arctic Ocean, August 12, 2009. Photo: Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard. Public domain.

Researchers are using satellite technology to see the landmass that exists under Antarctica; additionally, there is work that continues to be done to explore and map the physical makeup of the land underneath our oceans.

More: Sub-branches of Physical Geography

Integrated Geography

Integrated geography can also be known as environmental geography, or human-environment geography. Integrated geography takes human and physical geographic issues and molds them together.

This area of geography is useful for connecting humans and the impacts we have on our natural environment.

GIS and remote sensing technologies can be used to show where humans have physically altered an environmental landscape.

For example, we can pinpoint where Iraqi wetlands have dried up due to overuse of the water resources there, and where conservation efforts have succeeded in renewing some of these wetlands more recently. 

Satellites like those in the Landsat program help to monitor changes affected by the interactions of humans on Earth.  Imagery captured by Landsat 5 and Landsat 8 captured changes in the Peruvian Amazon forest over time due to small-scale agriculture.  Image: USGS, public domain.
Satellites like those in the Landsat program help to monitor changes affected by the interactions of humans on Earth. Imagery captured by Landsat 5 and Landsat 8 captured changes in the Peruvian Amazon forest over time due to small-scale agriculture. Image: USGS, public domain.

Integrated geography can be used to explore humanity’s relation to the Earth as well as the Earth’s relationship to people. 

Regional Geography 

Rather than look at geography on a global scale, regional geography breaks the science down into more specific areas.

Regional geography looks at cultural and natural aspects of geography that are unique to a particular place. Regional geography could include parceling out locations by looking at different watersheds, or just looking at coastal areas, and so on. 

The most common example of regional geography is by country.

We take the borders that have been drawn out and look within those borders. Often the human geography contained within those countries is much more varied and diverse than we expect.

Natural borders such as rivers, mountain passes, or other large bodies of water often impact where borders are drawn.

This global map shows in  blue all of the international borders defined by large rivers. Map: Lauren Dauphin, NASA, public domain.
This global map shows in blue all of the international borders defined by large rivers. Map: Lauren Dauphin, NASA, public domain.

An understanding of political and cultural factors in regional geography can help paint a clearer picture, too. 

Geomatics

Geomatics is most closely related to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and other geospatial sciences.

Geomatic engineers work to collect, distribute, store, analyze, process, and present data that they have gathered with regards to geographic information.

A high-precision Global Positioning System (GPS) survey is completed annually on Mauna Loa.  Photo: R. Kramer, USGS. Public domain.
A high-precision Global Positioning System (GPS) survey is completed annually on Mauna Loa. Photo: R. Kramer, USGS. Public domain.

Geomatics uses different technologies to assist with the above goals. Jobs that work with geomatics can include urban planners, land surveys, space exploration, agriculture, and geomarketing. 

Cartography

Geographers who study cartography are usually more involved in the mapping of things. In general, every geographer must have the essential knowledge that is required in displaying data on maps.

Cartography focuses on ways in which the entire mapping procedure can be technologically advanced by creating maps that are generally of higher quality. 

Before the use of computer cartography, mapmaking was a manual process.  Scribing of the intermediate contours for a USGS topographic map using a freehand scriber in 1957. Photo: U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.
Before the use of computer cartography, mapmaking was a manual process. Scribing of the intermediate contours for a USGS topographic map using a freehand scriber in 1957. Photo: U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.

On a conclusive note, geography is a very wide subject and this is why it is comprised of numerous sub-disciplines within it.

There are other branches within this science that have not been discussed, and some of the notable ones include: geographic education, historical geography, GIS (Geographic Information Systems), remote sensing, and quantitative methods.

There are some branches in geography that are generally interrelated to others, but there are other branches that have very different principalities in place. 

Related Resources on Geography

This article was co-written with Caitlin Dempsey.

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