Environmental Science Geography
Kimberly M. Meitzen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199363445-0037


Geography is the study of the earth, including the physical environment, humans, natural and cultural places/regions, and the complex relationships among human-environment interactions. Geography is relevant to the environmental sciences for many reasons but particularly for its focus on distributions of various environmental- and human-related interactions and the factors controlling such distributions over varied spatial and temporal scales. Geography as an applied discipline provides many field-based and geospatial computational methods, techniques, and tools for analyzing local to global earth surface interactions. Environmental science benefits from these contributions. Geography inherently spans the physical and social sciences, commonly integrating aspects of each as they influence one another. This selection of resources focuses on the subdisciplines of geography that are distinctly environmental, including applied and basic process-based physical geography, human-environmental interactions, geographic information sciences, and considerations of scale. Physical geography is the study of the natural environment and all the components and processes that interact across the earth’s surface to influence the distribution and development of natural phenomena, including weather, climate, landforms, soils, plants, and animals. Physical geography is traditionally subdivided by the three major research areas: climatology, geomorphology, and biogeography. Climatology is the study of weather and climate processes and energy fluxes and the factors that control spatial and temporal variations in temperature and precipitation; such controls range from local topographic influences to global wind and ocean current circulation patterns, to human-influenced climate change. Geomorphology is the study of landforms and the processes (water, wind, ice, tectonics, etc.) that shape different erosional and depositional features of the earth surface. Geomorphology includes (but is not limited to) the study of rivers, mountains, coasts, glaciers, and many other earth surface features and landscapes. Biogeography is the study of the distributions of plants and animals (avian, terrestrial, marine, and freshwater organisms), their interactions within an ecosystem or landscape, and the factors controlling their presence and resilience. Climatology, geomorphology, and biogeography can all be examined across a range of spatial and temporal scales, and there is often an emphasis on explaining and quantifying how natural phenomena within these disciplines change over space and time and how they are influenced directly and indirectly by humans. Human-environmental geography includes natural hazards, environmental management, nature-society interactions, and the global environment. Geographic information sciences include GIS (geographic information systems) and remote sensing technologies designed for studying the earth surface environment. Although not a distinct subdiscipline, the concept of scale and the spatial and temporal dimensions of scale are a central tenet of most geography research. Global environmental change, as influenced by physical and human influences and interactions, is a more recent area of study within geography that is rapidly evolving.

General Overviews

This section is intended primarily as a resource for materials that individually cover the breadth of geography as a discipline. Introductory textbooks suitable for first- to third-year undergraduate courses include Dahlman and Renwick 2013 and Hanson 1997. Both of these are suitable for majors and non-majors in geography and provide a good overview to the discipline presented in more contemporary teaching formats, e.g., Dahlman and Renwick 2013 include QR codes for students to use their smart phones and other mobile devices as tools for learning. Upper-division undergraduates and master’s-level graduate students will benefit from Castree, et al. 2005 and Clifford, et al. 2009; even though these are still introductory textbooks, they are designed for a more mature and critical-thinking audience. In addition, Castree, et al. 2005 and Clifford, et al. 2009 are good overviews for graduate students who may be coming from other disciplines into geography. Clifford, et al. 2010 and Hay 2006 provide guidance on conducting research in geography and prepare students for professional (mostly academic) career expectations. Clifford, et al. 2010 is an ideal textbook for a research design and methods course for first-year graduate students. Many areas of geography are applied to problem solving, and Pacione 1999 introduces the more common applied areas of the field, across the physical, environmental, and human dimensions, from a pragmatic approach. A general overview of geography would not be complete without a classic piece from Yi Fu Tuan. His 1991 essay A View of Geography is a sentimental discourse defining geography “as the study of the earth as the home of people.” Tuan describes geography as united field of study that integrates three elements: earth, humans, and home.

  • Castree, Noel, Alisdair Rogers, and Douglas Sherman. 2005. Questioning geography: Fundamental debates. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Approaches the discipline of geography from a contemporary perspective intended to appeal to upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. This book is organized into five sections, each containing a selection of papers addressing fundamental questions and issues of historic to modern relevance to geography.

  • Clifford, Nicholas, Shaun French, and Gill Valentine. 2010. Key methods in geography. 2d ed. London: SAGE.

    Informative guide for all geography students, particularly graduate students undertaking thesis or dissertation research in physical, environmental, or human geography. Covers all aspects of a research project, including project design, methods, analysis, result reporting, and issues of research ethics and common protocols. Great textbook for a research design and methods course.

  • Clifford, Nicholas, Sarah Holloway, Stephen Rice, and Gill Valentine. 2009. Key concepts in geography. 2d ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    Organized to provide an introduction and overview of the major themes in geography including space, time, place, scale, social systems, environmental systems, landscape, nature, globalization, development, and risk. Key concepts are covered from one or more perspectives in keeping with the interdisciplinary context of geography. Suited for graduate studies.

  • Dahlman, Carl T., and William H. Renwick. 2013. Introduction to geography: People, places, and environment. 6th ed. New York: Prentice Hall.

    Authored by a human geographer (Dahlman) and a physical geographer (Renwick), this book is ideal for an introductory-level or advanced high school course. Provides QR codes for students to use cellphones to search for more information on different topics. Easy to read, good graphics, and many additional helpful teaching resources are included.

  • Hanson, Susan E. 1997. 10 Geographic Ideas that Changed the World. Rutgers Univ. Press.

    Compilation of ten different themes in geography each addressed by different geographers. It is presented simply enough to be suitable for undergraduate students in general introductory geography course. Of particular use to non-geographers seeking to understand geography, is the chapter on spatial organization and interdependence authored by Edward J. Taafe.

  • Hay, Iain. 2006. Communicating in geography and the environmental sciences. 3d ed. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A book designed to prepare undergraduates, graduate students, and even early career geography faculty on navigating the academic environment. For students it is a great resource for improving writing, presentation, and learning skills. For early career faculty it is a useful planning guide to develop criteria/rubric for evaluating students.

  • Pacione, Michael. 1999. Applied geography: Principles and practice. New York: Routledge.

    Introductory book covering all realms of applied geography across the physical, environmental, and human dimensions. Examples and application scenarios are classified by natural and environmental hazards, environmental change and management, challenges of the human environment, and techniques of spatial analysis. Useful as a teaching reference or for a graduate seminar.

  • Tuan, Yi-Fu. 1991. A view of geography. Geographical Review 81.1: 99–107.

    DOI: 10.2307/215179

    Eloquent essay defining geography relative to three key terms: earth, humans, and home. Recommended for all students and scholars of geography, this is one of the classics that unites the diversity of social and physical views of the discipline into one place.

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