Physical Geography and Climatic Studies

The Physical Geography specialization and the Climatic Studies specialization within the Geography major both focus on the processes and patterns linking the Earth's surface, or geosphere, with the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Both of these specializations provide students with a background in geographic information science, cartography, and satellite image analysis, but they differ slightly in their content and technical emphases.

Students specializing in Climatic Studies will receive technical knowledge in climatology, meteorology, microclimatological measurements, and severe weather forecasting. Students are introduced to the theoretical bases for atmospheric processes operating on multiple scales and their applications to specific phenomena.

Students specializing in Physical Geography will receive technical training in areas such as biogeography, geoscience, hydrology, glaciology, geomorphology, land cover change, and global climate change. Physical geographers are concerned about the impact of natural hazards, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes, on humans and the built environment.

Note: Students interested in becoming meteorologists should major in Atmospheric Sciences. More information is available on the Atmospheric Science Program website.

There is no minimum GPA, required prerequisites, or application required to declare a major in Geography with a specialization in Physical Geography or Climatic Studies.

Physical Geography and Climatic Studies Curriculums

Undergraduate Curriculum

Graduate Curriculum

Issues & Topics:

Weather forecasting

  • Satellite images
  • Radar
  • Model output
  • Remote Sensing

Physical environment

  • Biogeography
  • Natural hazards
  • Hydrology
  • Pollution
  • Air quality


  • Radiation budgets
  • Surface effects
  • Energy conservation
  • Weather and climate


  • Tectonic uplift
  • Glacial action
  • Chemical weathering
  • Field observations

Global climate change

  • Human influence
  • Glaciers and ice sheets
  • Impacts
  • Detection


  • Droughts
  • El Nino
  • Land use
  • Climates of the world

Acquired Skills:

Critical Skills

  • Critical thinking and reasoning
  • Oral and written communication
  • Research design and implementation
  • Strong organizational skills

Technical skills

  • Solid foundation in mathematics and the physical sciences
  • Synoptic and mesoscale weather forecasting
  • Quantitative data analysis
  • Graphic communication (including map reading and development)


Geographers find careers in many fields both within and outside the discipline of geography. Below is a partial listing of careers for which students within the Physical Geography and Climatic Studies specializations are well-suited and where previous graduates have found employment.

  • Climatologist for public or private sector
  • Professional for agribusiness, outdoor recreation, and resource management coporations
  • Environmental Management Specialist
  • Monitor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Energy and Natural Resources Specialist
  • Air Quality Analyst
  • Outdoor Parks Service Guide
  • Risk Analyst for insurance industry
  • Professional storm chaser/weather guide
  • Environmental Consultant
  • Researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Resource and Conservation Department's Center for Atmospheric Research, or the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research