What are the 5 branches of geography?

Geography is a science that studies phenomena occurring on the earth’s surface, including geographical features, ethnic groups, economic activities associated with the land and the distribution of living species.

There are many branches of geography and all of them can be grouped into different groups. Below we will look at the main branches of this discipline, as well as learn what they do and what their main objects of study are.

What are the 5 branches of geography?

The 5 branches of geography are:

  • Physical geography
  • Huma geography
  • Biological geography
  • Astronomical geography
  • Mathematical geography

Geography is a science that studies the phenomena that occur on the Earth’s surface. Within its general conception, this discipline analyses the environments, spaces and inhabitants of the Earth and their interactions, which is why we can find within its field of study geographical accidents, rivers, mountains, landscapes, countries, societies, ethnic distribution…

Since there are many things that geography can study, it is subdivided into several branches which can be put together in different groups. Moreover, being a discipline that touches on so many different aspects, it has an integrative nature, drawing on knowledge and methods from other fields such as biology, geology, history, chemistry, sociology…

As mentioned above, there are several branches of geography. They can be grouped according to their field of study and, below, we present several geographical branches classified into three main groups: physical geography, biological geography and human geography.

Types and Branches of Geography

Geography as a science has a very broad field of study, so it is necessary to divide it into different types such as physical, biological, human, astronomical and mathematical.

Each of them has major subdivisions and related sciences, hence its interdisciplinary nature, crossing the traditional boundaries between various disciplines in order to achieve their study objectives.

Physical geography

It is one of the branches of geography that is responsible for describing the earth’s surface, i.e. the physical environment such as water, relief, vegetation, climate, fauna and soil. 

To do this requires analysing and understanding each phenomenon from its patterns, processes and the elements involved. Hence the need to rely on other disciplines that allow for more specialised studies. 

For this reason, the objective of physical geography is the systemic and spatial study of the earth’s surface, from the totality of the phenomenon to the most specific forms of natural geographic space.

Geomorphology

This is one of the branches of geography specialising in both geography and geology, the latter being understood as the science that deals with the study of the origin, formation and evolution of the Earth, as well as the materials of which it is composed and their structure.

Climatology

Climatology is one of the branches of geography oriented to the study of climate, its varieties, changes and their causes. It analyses the atmospheric states, i.e. temperature, precipitation, atmospheric pressure and winds, which are recorded at a given time and place, as well as their variations.

Hydrography

This is one of the branches of geography that specialises in the study of bodies of water, which occupy 70% of the earth’s surface. It includes the seas and oceans as the largest bodies of water, followed by rivers, lakes, lagoons, aquifers, streams, torrents, wetlands and groundwater.

Soil science

This relatively new science is concerned with the study of nature, properties, composition, formation, evolution, taxonomy, utility, conservation, recovery and distribution of soils. It analyses its relationship with the environment and the plants that inhabit it.

Glaciology

This is one of the branches of geography that focuses on the study of water in a solid-state, i.e. glaciers, as the name suggests. Among its studies is the form that the glacier adopts, the circumstances that originate it and the action of the ice on the relief, as well as its dynamics.

Human Geography

This is the second major branch of geography, as it studies the relationship of human groups with their physical environment, i.e. spatial arrangement, as well as their patterns of social interaction. 

This refers to the impact of population distribution, the geographical conditions that delimit it and its relationship with nature. All of this is linked to the modifications made by man.

Population geography

In the case of this discipline, its study focuses on territorial variations referring to the distribution and concentration of the population, mainly the age and sex structure, as well as the description of socio-demographic events, i.e. fertility, mortality and migration, which are the ones that most clearly determine the territorial dimension. Overpopulation and its effects on the environment are the priority issues.

Rural Geography

This deals with the study of these spaces and their activities (agricultural, livestock and commercial), as well as their living conditions and how the spaces are modified according to the economy, property distribution, environmental problems and population displacement.

Urban Geography

Urban geography is concerned with the study of the spaces and forms of cities, i.e. demography, urban development, industrial, service and commercial centres. In other words, this geography studies the structure and functioning of metropolises understood as an urban landscape.

Economic Geography

This is one of the subdivisions of geography that basically deals with the study of market conditions according to the geographical distribution of producers and consumers.  It studies spatial conditions with respect to natural factors as well as their economic influence.

Historical geography

This geography studies the phenomena and patterns that occurred in the past, using maps, books, statistical data and other publications that allow us to understand the different processes of demographic, social, economic and cultural changes and thus be able to establish the evolution of the different regions.

Political Geography

Political geography is basically based on the study of the distribution and political organisation of the earth’s surface. This makes it possible to understand border situations and relations between states. 

This requires knowledge of physical data such as land morphology, river and sea conditions, as well as governmental systems and their repercussions on political actions.

Cultural Geography

Understanding that culture is the set of material and spiritual goods of a social group, cultural geography studies the phenomena and processes of each of them, as they are unique according to the area they inhabit. It includes economic and social factors.

Biological geography

Biological geography or biogeography is another major branch of geography. Its studies focus on the distribution of species and subspecies on the earth’s surface and the conditions under which they develop.

Phytogeography

This branch of geography is oriented towards the study of the distribution of plants on the planet. It provides data on the functioning, organs, morphology and distribution of the great variety of plants and their relationship with other living beings.

Ecology

Ecology, also known as ecosystem biology, studies how living things interact with their environment. This means that it takes into account the biotic factors, or rather, the living beings in the same habitat, and the abiotic factors represented by humidity, temperature and environment, in order to establish their relationship and development.

Zoogeography

Zoology is the scientific discipline responsible for the study of animals and their distribution on the planet. In other words, it studies everything from morphology and anatomy to the way they live, feed, reproduce and develop.

Astronomical Geography

This is another branch of geography, that deals with the study of the celestial bodies present in the solar system, i.e. planets, sun and the different moons, comets and asteroids and stars, to name but a few.  

This science relies on other specialities in order to achieve its goal. Among them is astronomy, with the study of all celestial bodies. Actinology studies light and radiation from the stars, as well as their effects on living beings. Astrophysics studies the formation and evolution of celestial bodies.

Cosmogony studies the stars that form part of the solar system. Cosmology, which studies the laws of the universe, i.e. its origin, history, structure and evolution, and finally cosmonautics, which deals with space navigation.

Mathematical geography

This geographical science studies the relationship between the universe and the planet through mathematical processes. It requires cartography to obtain data on the dimensions of the earth and to be able to capture them on maps or globes.

Chronology, to study time by relating dates to events. It also requires the study of gravitational fields, which is called geodesy, and topography, which studies the characteristics of the relief of the earth’s surface.

Conclusion

As you have seen, geography is not only limited to the physical formations that surround us, such as mountains, canyons, lakes, rivers and continents. This branch of science goes much further than that because on a physical level it also studies climatology, the relationship between the landscape and humans, the past history of the planet and much more.

Within physical geography, there are already many subtypes, but if we also take into account the human aspect, the variety of disciplines of general geography can increase to more than 20 specialisations. From human migrations to the water cycle, geography studies everything that happens on the earth’s surface, always with an objective and quantifiable approach.

References

Bonnett, A. (2008). What is geography?. Sage.

Bunge, W. W. (1973). The geography. The Professional Geographer, 25(4), 331-337.

Hall, T., & Barrett, H. (2012). Urban geography. Routledge.

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