Physical Geography study outline
updated February 27, 2013
Chapter 1: essentials of geography
Review outline of chapter and essentials
Definition of geography
What does "spatial" mean with respect to geography?
Scientific method: Define scientific
theory vs. hypothesis
Open system vs. closed system; know examples of
open and closed systems
system equilibrium: steady state vs. dynamic systems; tipping points
Earths "environmental spheres (aka Earth systems).
Pinatubo eruption of 1991 and impact of sulfate aerosols
circumference, equatorial vs. polar
Parallels of latitude and latitudinal geographic zones
Meridians of longitude; Prime Meridian; navigation and
Time zones and International Date Line
Map scales: large vs. small and nature of each?
Remotes sensing and orbiting satellites
GIS and layers; georeferencing
Photogrammetry: topographic maps and contour lines
Chapter 2: Solar seas
Overview of key concepts
Cosmic context of Earth: Milky Way
Solar system and types of planets; asteroid belt, etc
The Sun; nature of energy from? ...how affects Earth?
radiant energy, the electromagnetic spectrum: wavelength, frequency,
relationship of temperature of a body to wavelength of radiant energy
wavelengths of insolation from Sun vs. those waves reradiated from
distribution of Suns energy on Earth's surface, with respect to
Earth's orbit around sun: revolution vs. rotation
Plane of the ecliptic; tilt of Earth's axis of rotation
Circle of illumination and change of seasons
Winter and summer solstice; fall and spring equinox
Tropics or Capricorn and Cancer; Arctic and Antarctic Circles
Profile of the atmosphere based on composition, temperature, and
Air density and air pressure: relationship with altitude?
troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere
CO2 sampling and Keeling curve
Ozone, Ozone layer, Ozone hole, and CFCs: UV and cancer
wildfires, natural dust, and the atmosphere
cars and SMOG:
Coal, coal-fired power plants: SO2, H2SO4, acid rain, sulfate
sources of natural variable gases and material
"Reasons for the seasons"
Chapter 3: Atmosphere, energy, and global temperature
terms related to solar energy processes:
transmission, insolation, scattering, reflection, albedo, refraction,
absorption, advection: know definition and examples
energy transfer: conduction, convection, radiation
longwave vs. shortwave energy (somewhat repeated from chapt. 2)
Earth's energy budget diagram; Earth's energy budget by latitude
Daily radiation curve vs. temperature
daily radiation and landscapes (effects in desert vs. moist environment
definitions: temperature vs. heat?
daily and annual range of temperature: by latitude; : marine vs.
continental environment; isotherms
specific heat and heat capacity of water vs. land
transfer of heat energy from tropics to higher latitudes; Gulf Stream;
atmospheric air movement
heat index and relative humidity
urban heat island and effects of cities
Chapter 4 study guide for geography, Atmosphere and Ocean circulations
Key (big) ideas in this chapter:
1. There is an energy imbalance between equatorial
areas and polar areas, and energy is transferred as a result.
2. Solar energy drive weather, and latent heat
energy, Earth’s rotation (and Coriolis effect), as well as the
distribution of land masses and oceans is a factor. [Can you explain
3. Human-caused pollution is spread by winds and can
impact the environment even climate; but natural pollutants and
phenomena such as volcanic eruptions also produced aerosols and
particles that affect weather and climate (see examples in the
chapter). Global winds and ocean currents are produced.
4. Because air is moving and behaves differently over
land and water, there are always differences in air pressure, which has
to do with the amount of air that is pushing down on any give
surface. Know who first measured air pressure and how it is
5. Air moves from areas of higher pressure to lower
pressure: the air pressure gradient. This can be portayed on a
“surface map” by isobars, which are lines of equal air pressure.
6. In addition to differences in pressure and the air
pressure gradient, Coriolis, and friction forces play a role in the way
winds blow depending on latitude and also whether they are at the
Earth’s surface or upper air winds. Global winds drive the oceanic
List of main points for Chapter 4:
1. What is air pressure and how is it measured. Note types of barometers.
2. What is wind and how is it measured? Note Beaufort Wind Scale.
3. Pressure gradient force, Coriolis force or effect,
friction force—all of these plus gravity determine speed and direction
4. Note relationship of Pressure Gradient Force and wind velocity!
5. Note difference in effects of Coriolis force in northern and southern hemisphere!
6. High vs. low pressure: height of air differs from
place to place owing to various factors; big pile of air in one place
causes high pressure. Air moves from high to low pressure. How does
spacing of isobars relatet to air pressure and wind speed?
7. Atmospheric circulation model (see p. 124)
generalizes how global winds behave owing to cellular movement of air.
This is crucial to understanding weather. Know various wind belts,
features, and jet streams that are part of this model, including
Inter-tropical Convergence zone (ITCZ).
8. Upper air moves parallel to isobars because of
combination of forces the bends wind. Upper air high pressure forms a
‘’ridge” and upper air low pressure forms a “trough” if viewed like a
topographic map that shows the height of the air (and remember, higher
pile of air is high pressure…)
9. Because of the frictional boundary layer where
winds interact with Earth’s surface, surface winds blow across isobars
at an angle, with high pressure blowing outward in a clockwise pattern
and low pressure converging inward in a counter clockwise pattern in
the northern hemisphere; these orientations are just the opposite in
the southern hemisphere because coriolis force is different. But you
knew that, right?
10. Rossby waves are great undulating waves in the polar jet stream that move around the Earth.
11. Effects that happen on a multiyear scale (more or
less): Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Arctic Oscillation, and North
Atlantic Oscillation are several. El Nino was introduced already, and
will be discussed in more detail in Chap. 7. Their fluctuations play a
significant role in regional weather and climate trends and are not yet
12. Local wind patterns: Sea breeze vs. land breeze;
mountain vs. valley breeze, Katabatic winds (gravity driven off
plateaus and mountain ranges), Santa Ana winds, Monsoonal winds.
13. Global winds drive surface ocean currents and can
cause upwelling and downwelling currents—these currents play a
significant role in local ecosystems, for example upwelling currents
bring nutrients to the surface in areas of major fisheries.
14. Thermohaline circulation—the global deep-ocean “conveyor belt”. Know what drives it and what it is.
Chapter 5 study guide for geography: atmospheric water and weather
Main themes and topics of chapter 5
The chapter discussion of the water, weather, and climate system,
starts with the beginning of Earth's water, where it came from, and how
it is distributed on the planet: in oceans, glaciers, groundwater,
streams and lakes, the soil, etc, and its unique properties.
Weather is related to atmospheric stability and instability, which in
turn relates to relative humidity, vertical temperature profiles of the
atmosphere, and air pressure differences.
Clouds form when air water vapor condenses; they are important indicators of overall atmospheric conditions.
Movement of air masses across North America can strongly influence
weather. Air masses are but one of the powerful lifting mechanisms in
the atmosphere, including convergence, orographic lifting, and
convectional lifting. Lifting of air creates weather because as air
cools higher in the Troposphere, moisture condenses. Mid latitude
cyclones strongly affect weather as well.
Violent weather includes thunderstorms, windstorms, tornadoes, and tropical storms such as hurricanes.
Temperature, air pressure, relative humidity, wind speed and direction,
day length, and Sun angle are important measurable elements that
contribute to the weather and that are important to measure for weather
Important points about atmospheric water and weather
1. Most of Earth’s water probably came from within
the Earth by outgassing from volcanoes. Another source is comets.
2. Eustatic sea level changes are those that affect
the oceans worldwide and depend on the total volume of water on Earth.
3. Note the distribution of water on Earth in the
figure on p. 148 as ocean water, surface water (including glaciers and
Chapter 6 Water
Hydrologic cycle--know terms: precipitation, infiltration, runoff, etc. See list of terms at end of chapter.
Groundwater, water table, zone of saturation, soil moisture zone, transpiration, field capacity, wilting point, drought, etc
soil moisture: Hygroscopic water--capillary water--saturation: see fig. 6.08
Understand basics of water budget
Engineering projects and water: examples Grand Coulee Dam, new Three Gorges Dam in China, California aqueduct.
Groundwater: Ogalalla Aquifer aka, High Plains Aquifer.
groundwater: water table, cone of depression, drawdown, aquaclude, perched water table, artesian aquifer, porosity, permeability
Influent vs. effluent streams
Global water scarcity (note regions of abundant vs. scarce water)
salt water intrusion
Chapter 7 Climate systems and climate change
Climate relationships: cold to hot and dry to wet.
Decadal scale cycles: El Nino and La Nina, Pacific Decadal Oscilation (PDO)
World climate classification; see diagram, p. 230–231
greenhouse gases--which are they?
Keeling curve and CO2
anthropogenic vs. natural forcing
evidence about paleoclimates from geologic environments, isotopes, ice cores, marine fossils, tree rings, CO2 measurements, etc
Model scenarios for future heating of the planet
"global ocean conveyor belt" (thermohaline circulation)
oxygen in Earth history:
3.5 Ga cyanobacteria (Stromatolites) produced some oxygen (but N and CO2 etc principle gases)
~2.4 Ga oxygen increasing slowly--banded iron deposits
550 Ma inc in Oxygen --first fossils with hard parts ~ 542 Ma
400 Ma major increase in Oxygen reaching today's levels -- increase in size of animals
Ancient Ice Ages: snowball Earth in Neoproterozoic times
movement of tectonic plates and huge volcanic eruptions affected climates of the past
Marine fossils, ice cores, and isotopes most helpful in reconstructing
paleoclimate --examples Marine Isotope stages and Vostok ice cores
Milankovitch cycles help explain cycles of the Ice Ages and
interglacial periods: orbital eccentricity, tilt, precession all of
which change the amount and intensity of solar radiation hitting Earth
studies of bogs and pollen (palynology)
Chapter 8: Dynamic Earth
geothermal heat: a useable energy source (Earth's internal heat drives volcanism and tectonics)
Geologic Time Scale: The Earth is 4.567 Ga (billion yrs old); the Geologic Time Scale
Structure of the Earth: core, outer core, mantle, crust
lithosphere, asthenosphere (how do these relate to crust and mantle?)
external vs. internal forces on Earth
the big 8 elements of the Earth's crust: make up most minerals in the crust
Definition of a mineral: naturally occurring crystalline solid etc
rock cycle: igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic
igneous rocks: intrusive vs extrusive
sedimentary rocks: (examples sandstone, limestone)
metamorphic rocks -- recrystallized by heat and/or pressure
seafloor spreading creates new ocean floor and drives plate movement
spreading ridges and rises: example: Mid-Atlantic Ridge
magnetic reversals and seafloor spreading
drifting continents: Pangaea
types of plate tectonic boundaries: convergent, divergent, transform
age of the ocean floor
locations of earthquakes and volcanoes
hot spots: Hawaiian volcanic chain
Chapter 9: Tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanism
Earth's hypsometry --see Fig. 3
topography, topographic regions, relief
seafloor spreading, subduction, accretion of terranes --building crust
crustal deformation: stress vs. strain [know the difference]
types of faults; know in relation to applied stress (compression, tension, shear)
Types of folds anticline vs. syncline
domes and basins
Basin and Range Province
orogenesis (mountain building); types of orogenesis (ocean-ocean, ocean-continent, continent-continent)--know examples
epicenter vs. focus
foreshocks and aftershocks
Intensity vs. Magnitude
seismograph, Richter scale, Moment-magnitude scale
elastic rebound theory
nature of faults in the Pacific Northwest, megathrust faults
forecasting of earthquakes
Haiti earthquake of 2010, Kobe, 1995, Tohoku 2011, Sumatra, 2004
San Andreas Fault, Anatolian Fault, Cascadia Fault
volcano, crater, lava (ex: pahoehoe, aa)
cinder cone, caldera, shield volcano, composite (stratovolcano), dome, flood basalts
location of volcanic activity on Earth
effusive vs. explosive eruption
1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens
hazardous processes at composite volcanoes: lahars, pyroclastic flows, tephra/ash, landslides, gases
Mount Pinatubo eruption of 1991
Volcano monitoring and prediction
volcano hazard assessment and forecasting
Chapter 14 Glacial and Periglacial landscapes
Ice sheets and continental glaciers, ice caps, alpine glaciers, valley
glaciers, cirque glaciers, sea ice, tidewater glacier, icebergs
mass balance; accumulation zone, ablation zone, snowline/equilibriun line
glacial erosion and abrasion; striations
arete, horn, col
moraine, drumlin, esker, kame, outwash plain
U-shaped valley, hanging valley, truncated spurs
till vs. outwash deposits
periglacial features, tundra
Pleistocene Epoch, Holocene Epoch
ice age vs. interglacial period
glacial ice cores
oxygen isotope record and temperature
Milankovitch cycles--effect on insolation
Little Ice Age
Chapter 16: Ecosystems and biomes
biogeography, biome, evolution, succession
Ecosystem Components and Cycles: The Global Carbon Cycle, The Nitrogen Cycle, Midlatitude Productivity, Building a Food Web
Levels of study in Ecology:
Communities: community, habitat, niche
Plants: The Essential Biotic Component
vascular plants; Leaf Activity: stomata
Photosynthesis and Respiration: photosynthesis, chlorophyll, respiration
Net Primary Productivity: net primary productivity, biomass
Abiotic Ecosystem Components: Light, Temperature, Water, Climate, nutrients
altitudinal Life Zones
θ biogeochemical cycles: Oxygen and Carbon Cycles, The Nitrogen Cycle
Biotic Ecosystem Operations
Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers (other terms: herbivore, carnivore, omnivore)
θ food chain
θ food web
Ecosystems, Evolution, and Succession
Biological Evolution Delivers Biodiversity: biodiversity, evolution
Ecological Stability and Diversity
Ecological Succession: primary succession vs. secondary succession
Terrestrial Succession vs. Aquatic Succession: (eutrophication)
Earth’s Major Terrestrial Biomes
Terrestrial Ecosystem: Terrestrial ecosystem concepts: biome, ecotone, formation classes
Equatorial and Tropical Rain Forest (issue: Deforestation of the Tropics)
Tropical Seasonal Forest and Scrub
Midlatitude Broadleaf and Mixed Forest
Needleleaf Forest and Montane Forest (midlatitude needleleaf forest, boreal forest, taiga)
Temperate Rain Forest
Mediterranean Shrubland (also: chaparral)
Deserts and desert biomes: Warm Desert and Semidesert; Cold Desert and Semidesert
Arctic and Alpine Tundra