Physical geography studies the spatial patterns of weather and climate, soils, vegetation, animals, water in all its forms, and landforms. Physical geography also examines the interrelationships of these phenomena to human activities. This sub-field of geography is academically known as the Human-Land Tradition. This area of geography has seen very keen interest and growth in the last few decades because of the acceleration of human induced environmental degradation. Thus, physical geography's scope is much broader than the simple spatial study of nature. It also involves the investigation of how humans are influencing nature.
Academics studying physical geography and other related earth sciences are rarely generalists. Most are in fact highly specialized in their fields of knowledge and tend to focus themselves in one of the following well defined areas of understanding in physical geography:
- Geomorphology - studies the various landforms on the Earth's surface.
- Pedology - is concerned with the study of soils.
- Biogeography - is the science that investigates the spatial relationships of plants and animals.
- Hydrology - is interested in the study of water in all its forms.
- Meteorology - studies the circulation of the atmosphere over short time spans.
- Climatology - studies the effects of weather on life and examines the circulation of the atmosphere over longer time spans.
The above fields of knowledge generally have a primary role in introductory textbooks dealing with physical geography. Introductory physical geography textbooks can also contain information from other related disciplines including:
- Geology - studies the form of the Earth's surface and subsurface, and the processes that create and modify it.
- Ecology - the scientific study of the interactions between organisms and their environment.
- Oceanography - the science that examines the biology, chemistry, physics, and geology of oceans.
- Cartography - the technique of making maps.
- Astronomy - the science that examines celestial bodies and the cosmos.