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Physical Geography

spatial analysis of the physical components and natural processes that combine to form the environment


where something is relative or absolute


describes the location

Human-environment Interaction

how humans adapt to and modify the environment


the flow of geographical variables from one locality to another


an area that shares one or more characteristics


any portion of the universe that can be isolated from the rest for observation and measurement. Systems contain matter and energy.

Four major Earth systems

atmosphere: gases that surround the Earth including N2, O2, Ar, CO2, water vapor;
hydrosphere: solid & liquid water on and in Earth but excludes water locked up as part of a solid mineral structure;
biosphere: organisms and undecayed organic matter;
geosphere: non-living solid matter other than ice

Positive feedback

input increases production of the system

Negative feedback

input decreases production of the system

great circles

planes pass through center of Earth

small circles

planes don't reach center of Earth


equator as reference, northern and southern hemispheres, parallels, low, middle and high at 35 and 55 degrees


Prime Meridian, east and west, meridians are lines of longitude

map scale

Relates the size and/or distance between features on a map to the actual features in the real world


ex. One Inch = 2000 Feet

Graphic Scale

ex. picture of 0|----------|5 miles


1:24000 or 1/24000

Small scale

Large geographic areas
Limited level of detail

Large scale

Small geographic areas
Greater level of detail


lines connecting points of equal value on a map

Map projections

- 3-dimensional Earth on a 2-dimensional surface
- Inevitable distortion: shape or size, or both
- Projections preserve either shape or size, but not both


- Mercator
- Corrects the relative shape of landmasses
- Distorts the size of landmasses near the poles
- Lines of latitude are at right angles


- Albers Equal-Area
- Corrects the relative size of landmasses
- Distorts the shape of landmasses near the poles and equator
- Lines of latitude are curved

Remote sensing

measuring properties of the environment without direct contact

Satellite images

Sun-synchronous orbit
- keeps pace with Sun's westward progress
Geostationary orbit
- permanently remains in one place above Earth

Global Positioning Systems

geographic grid:
24 satellites orbit Earth every 12 hours

Geographic Information Systems

System for storing, analyzing, and manipulating spatially referenced data such as vegetation, soils, road networks locations

data layers

- Each layer is assigned a variety of detailed attributes
- Each layer exists as a distinct unit
- For analysis or display, layers are overlaid or combined

subsolar point

- Spring and Fall Equinoxes
Subsolar point at Equator
- Summer Solstice
Subsolar point at Tropic of Cancer
- Winter Solstice
Subsolar point at Tropic of Capricorn

causes of the seasons

Caused by Revolution and Tilt Combined

Length of day

the tilt of the earth and the angle of the sun's rays.

Angle of sun relative to Earth's surface

- Low latitudes have higher Sun angle
- High latitudes have lower Sun angle

Radiation leaving Sun and leaving Earth

The "hotter" Sun
- Greater amount of radiation
- Mostly shortwave
The "cooler" Earth
- Smaller amount of radiation
- Mostly longwave







Effect of angle of incidence


Gases in atmosphere

CO2, O2, water vapor, Ar





Greenhouse effect

- Atmosphere traps longwave radiation
- Redirects some radiation back to the surface as counter-radiation
- Effectively warms the surface

Effects of particulates


Layers in atmosphere

troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere


lowest (0-12 km)
1) Heated by Earth
2) dense gases
3) air mixes readily
4) most weather

Environmental lapse rate

air cools 6.4º C per 1000 m (3.5º F/1000 ft) change in elevation


Stratosphere (12-50 km)
1) contains ozone layer
2) top of ozone layer heats most
3) temp increases to top of stratosphere

Ozone layer


Changes in density of atmosphere


Maritime vs. continental effects on temp


Urban heat island


Low and high pressure systems

low pressure systems form where air is rising
1) called cyclones
2) center of system rises most, with lowest pressure
3) surface air spirals in to replace rising air
4) air moves counterclockwise
5) air is often warm

high pressure systems form where air is falling
1) called anticyclones
2) center of system has highest pressure
3) surface air spirals out
4) air moves clockwise
5) air is often cool at start, warms as descends

Coriolis effect

result of Earth spinning
1) ground moves
at different
speeds at
2) objects have
momentum in
direction of
Earth's spin

Global air circulation

breaks up into 6 bands or zones
a. Coriolis force prevents stationary model
b. Intertropical Convergence creates convection cells from 0-30º latitude

Intertropical Convergence


Cause, location, low pressure


Subtropical high

at 30º
1) upper atmosphere air falls
2) marks one boundary of Ferrel cell

Cause, location, high pressure


Subpolar low

at 60º
1) area where Polar cell and Ferrel cell converge
2) air rises

Cause, location, low pressure


Position of jet stream

occur near the boundaries between the major atmospheric circulation cells (that is, the polar, Ferrel, and Hadley cells)

Polar high


Migration of circulation cells

boundaries of all circulation cells shift during year
a. produces wet and dry seasons in many places
b. produces Monsoons
(near the equator)


1. Amount of water held in the air
2. 3 ways to look at humidity
a. maximum humidity - how much water a body of air could possibly hold at a given temp
1) warm air holds more water than cold air

b. specific humidity - how much water the body of air actually holds
c. relative humidity - a comparison of the amount of water in the air (specific humidity) to the amount of water that could possibly be in the air (maximum humidity)

Maximum, absolute, and relative


Effect of temperature


Latent Heat


Adiabatic heating and cooling

happen because air expands or contracts
a. as air expands, temp drops
b. as air compresses, temp rises
2. air expands if uplifted to higher elevations
3. air compresses if sinks to lower elevations

Dry adiabatic lapse rate

if air is unsaturated, temp drops steadily as rises and expands

Wet adiabatic lapse rate


Causes of uplift of air


Air masses


Maritime versus continental

a. Maritime - form over water, moist
b. Continental - form over land, dry

Tropical, polar, arctic

a. Tropical - warm
b. Polar - cold
c. Arctic - extremely cold


where air masses meet

Cold fronts

1) steep wedge of moving cold air rapidly uplifts warm air
2) rapid cooling of uplifted warm air
3) thunderstorms, intense rain, but of short duration

Warm fronts

1) warm air gradually rises over wedge of cold air
2) cloudy, with steady rain for hours or days

Midlatitude cyclones

a. a well-organized low-pressure system that migrates across a region while it spins
1) Wintertime brings strong temperature contrasts
2) Buildup of cold air forces polar front south
3) Forms the undulating jet stream and Rossby waves
4) Creates areas of frontal lifting and low-pressure

Köppen climate classification

- Most widely used classification system
- Stems from the recognized relationship between major vegetation regions and regional climate characteristics
- System's description of world climates is based on:
> Average monthly temperature
> Average monthly precipitation
> Total annual precipitation

Basic variables




Climate versus weather

- Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a specific place and time on Earth's surface
- Climate is the long-term average values of weather elements, such as temperature and precipitation

Inferring past climate

- Palynologists collect and study pollen records
- Dendrochronology studies tree ring patterns

Milankovitch cycles

a. axial tilt
1) 22-24.5 degrees (cold-warm)
2) 41,000 year period
b. eccentricity of orbit
1) becomes more or less elliptical (cold-warm)
2) 2% change in distance to sun
3) 100,000 year period
c. precession of equinoxes
1) rotation of orbital axis (affects which pole gets more energy when Earth is closest to Sun)
2) 26,000 year period



Obliquity (tilt)

the earth's axis tilted at 22.1 and 24.5 degrees


the earth does not orbit around the sun in a perfect circle







Continental and mountain


Previous glacial climates


Extent of ice






Glacial lakes




Human impacts on climate

CO2, ozone layer, higher amounts of sun absorption

CO2 record in atmosphere


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