GEOG101 Study Guide

Unit 1: Introduction to Geography

 1a. Discuss the two main branches of geography

  • What is the main focus of both physical and human geographers? 
  • Differentiate between physical geography and human geography by considering how a physical geographer might study Yellowstone National Park compared to a human geographer.
  • How do physical and cultural landscapes differ?

Geography is a broad discipline that focuses on spatial relationships and the interaction between humans and their physical environment. Some geographers focus on spatial relationships in the human realm and others focus on them in the physical realm. In Maps Show Us Who We Are, Not Just Where We Are, Danny Dorling describes himself as a human geographer because he studies the relationship between humans and the Earth's surface. He uses maps to show cultural landscapes, those landscapes humans have altered or created such as trade routes, light pollution, and where rice, maize, and corn grow.

A physical geographer, on the other hand, considers the physical landscape. A physical geographer might look at Dorling's map of annual precipitation on Earth and want to explain the physical features that result in such a pattern. For example, the location of mountain ranges, the distance inland from the coast, and the pattern of ocean currents, among many other factors help to explain why annual precipitation differs from one place to another. Like human geographers, physical geographers study and compare places but their focus is on the non-human aspects such as rivers, landforms, climate, and plants.



1b. Examine the tools that geographers use to study the Earth

  • How do geographers use the Global Positioning System (GPS)?
  • How does remotely sensed imagery enhance a geographer's study of a place beyond traditional maps?
  • What are the advantages of geospatial technology to geographers?
  • What role do maps play in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)?

Geographers have many tools at their disposal to help them study places and the relationships between those places. Many other disciplines use these tools, too and many people know much more about these tools than they think.

  • Cell phones, for example, use the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), including the Global Positioning System (GPS), the American segment of GNSS, to provide location information that aids navigation in unknown places. 
  • Remotely sensed imagery captured from satellites, aircraft, and drones, among other platforms, provide information about land use and land cover, which aids in hazard mitigation, for example. Much of this imagery has been and continues to be captured over time, providing a valuable temporal perspective on landscape change.
  • Geographers, among others, use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to put layers of data together, including remotely sensed imagery and GPS locations, to study a variety of phenomena. Maps are the most common mode of analysis and presentation, which is what distinguishes GIS from other modes of information science.

Whether a user examines a map as multiple geographic layers on a computer monitor or prints it out as a paper map, the ability to analyze data spatially is a powerful perspective.



1c. Explain the geographic grid and how it relates to time zones

  • How would someone communicate the relative location and absolute location of Yellowstone National Park?
  • How do geographers and cartographers use a graticule to organize locations?
  • What is the relationship between climate and latitude?
  • What is the relationship between time and longitude?

People can communicate their location in both absolute and relative terms. Creating a map for someone to use to drive from Quanzhou to Xiamen requires the absolute location of each city. If, however, someone from Xiamen is trying to provide a general idea of its location, the relative location may be sufficient and more helpful. Telling someone it is about 100 km southwest is easier to visualize than 24.48° N, 118.09° E. 

Absolute locations such as the latitude and longitude for Xiamen are derived from a grid or graticule superimposed on the Earth. Latitude and longitude are angular measurements and, therefore, are measured in degrees. Latitude is measured north and south from the Equator (0°).

The Earth's circumference is longest at the equator so it is a natural starting point. Note the key lines of latitude below. The Earth's axial tilt means there are variations in the angle of direct sunlight as Earth rotates around the Sun. For example, the places along the Tropic of Capricorn are the southernmost places receiving direct sunlight during the Southern Hemisphere's summer. Places south of 23.5° S receive no direct sunlight during that season. Latitudinal location also contributes to the amount of seasonal variation.

Determining longitude has, historically, been more challenging than latitude. Unlike latitude, longitude does not have an obvious starting line, thus one had to be selected.

  • Because Earth is a sphere, it can be divided into 360° of longitude.
  • Most countries have agreed to use the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London, England as the starting line, , which is known as the prime meridian.
  • Longitude is measured 180° east and west of the Prime Meridian, which is the International Date Line (IDL) is 180°
  • It takes 24 hours for Earth to rotate 360° so one hour equals 1/24th of a rotation or 15° of longitude.
  • Time zones are based on longitude as shown below.
  • The time zone that extends from 67.5° W to 82.5° E with a central meridian of 75°E is the Eastern Standard Time Zone, including Colombia, Peru, and parts of Canada, the United States, and Ecuador, among others.
  • To avoid dividing populated places, some time zone boundaries deviate to accommodate them. China has gone so far as to use one time zone for the entire country as a strategy for unifying its vast expanse rather than dividing it as the United States and Canada have done. Russia's hemispheric extent makes that impractical. If all of Russia used Moscow's time zone, for example, it would be dark in Vladivostok at noon.



1d. Discuss the spatial nature of geography and how each place or region is examined, analyzed, and compared

  • Explain the concepts of realm and region.
  • Provide examples of the three types of regions: formal, functional, and vernacular.
  • Why do geographers use regions and/or realms?

Just as humans have a need to categorize to make sense of complexity, so, too, do geographers use categories to reduce the complexity of the world. Some geographers reduce this complexity into categories called regions.

  • Generally, each region has one or more features in common. For example, in the United States, some people may refer to the relatively flat interior as the Midwest region.
  • Clearly, not everyone agrees on the boundaries of the Midwest region because others may think agricultural production or tornado activity help define it. Regions based on perceptions like these are vernacular regions
  • There are regions that have boundaries that are not open to debate such as the boundary of Bolivia. Bolivia is a country with internationally recognized boundaries and is, therefore, a formal region.
  • In between these two types of regions are functional regions, regions that coincide with a particular function or service that is offered. The delivery area of a grocery store is a functional region. People living within that functional region can have their groceries delivered. Those living outside that delivery area have to pick their purchases up at the store. 

Geographers also work with regions that are substantially larger. This course, for example, introduces the discipline of geography through an exploration of the world.

  • It is not practical to explore each location on the Earth's surface so those locations are sorted into regions according to their physical and cultural characteristics. These world regions are also called realms.
  • Not everyone agrees on the specifics of what the world's regions are or what their boundaries should be. Thus, it is not uncommon to find some variation across courses, subdisciplines, and individuals.
  • For the purpose of this course, the world is divided into thirteen realms that resemble the eleven realms shown below. Each realm is introduced in terms of its physical and human geography. 

Although there is variation within each of regions of all sizes and overlap at the borders, there are many common characteristics that render each a coherent unit.

Review Geography Basics, the spatial nature of geography and the concept of the region.


1e. Examine and discuss some of the foundational concepts of geography: physical geography (including climate, geology, and biogeography); population geography; cultural geography (including culture, ethnicity, religion, and language); economic geography; and globalization

  • How do climate, plate tectonics, and land cover such as forests relate to patterns of human habitation?
  • What are the anthropogenic contributors to climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental destruction?
  • Why are human geographers uniquely qualified to study the process of globalization?
  • What aspects of population structure have contributed to the demographic transition, urbanization, neocolonialism, and economic development?

The landscape features physical geographers study include climate, plate tectonics, and plant life, among many other facets of the environment.

  • Their interest in climate includes the categorization of long-term average weather patterns into climate types, which help explain why humans living in arid climates face different challenges than those living in equatorial climate types, for example.
  •  Physical geographers are also interested in what natural processes produce these climate types. For example, the rain shadow effect explains the arid conditions where mountain ranges prevent moisture-land air from reaching their leeward sides.
  • The tectonic activity that produces these mountain ranges and other geomorphic features is another research focus of physical geographers. A map of tectonic plates illustrates that mountain ranges often occur where two plates are converging.

In addition to the effect of the physical landscape on humans, humans have an effect on the physical landscape. When humans burn fossil fuels, for example, they emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Humans also decrease biodiversity when they remove land cover such as forests. Because trees remove carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere, their loss further contributes to climate change. Deforestation also increases the vulnerability of the area to landslides.

The landscape human geographers study includes its population, cultural and economic features, and patterns of globalization, among others. Not only has the distribution of humans changed over time, it has changed over space.

  • Population geographers explore the spatial and temporal components of changes in population structure, including fertility rates, family size, and why some parts of the world are experiencing demographic transitions and others are not.
  • Cultural geographers explore the attributes of populations beyond those that population geographers measure statistically. They focus on the interaction between human social behavior expressed through language, religion, art, and music, among other characteristics, and the natural landscape.
  • Economic geographers study the spatial variation in the activities associated with human production and consumption including, for example, the economic development index, national income, national debt, budget deficits, urbanization, and brain drain of countries. 

A geographic perspective is clearly critical to the understanding of globalization and its many facets. Indeed, many of the phenomena associated with the international spread of influence are, by definition, spatial: rural-to-urban shift, core-periphery, hinterland, and New World Order.



Unit 1 Vocabulary

This vocabulary list includes terms that students need to know to successfully complete the final exam for the course.

  • absolute location
  • axial tilt
  • climate types
  • cultural landscapes
  • cultural geographers
  • deforestation
  • economic geographers
  • Equator 
  • formal region 
  • functional regions
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • geography
  • globalization
  • Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS)
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • graticule
  • human geographer
  • International Date Line (IDL)
  • landslides 
  • latitude 
  • longitude 
  • physical geographer
  • physical landscape
  • population geographers 
  • prime meridian 
  • rain shadow effect
  • regions 
  • realms 
  • relative location
  • remotely sensed imagery 
  • spatial relationships
  • tectonic plates
  • temporal perspective
  • time zone
  • Tropic of Capricorn 
  • vernacular regions