Major Sub-Disciplines of Geography

Dozens of Branches of Geography Explained

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The field of geography is a vast and wondrous academic field with thousands of researchers working in dozens of interesting sub-disciplines or branches of geography. There is a branch of geography for just about any subject on Earth. In an effort to acquaint the reader with the diversity of the branches of geography, we summarize many below.

Human Geography

Many branches of geography are found within human geography, a major branch of geography that studies people and their interaction with the earth and with their organization of space on the earth's surface.

  • Economic Geography
    Economic geographers examine the distribution of production and distribution of goods, the distribution of wealth, and the spatial structure of economic conditions.
  • Population Geography
    Population geography is often equated with demography but population geography is more than just patterns of birth, death, and marriage. Population geographers are concerned with the distribution, migration, and growth of population in geographic areas.
  • Geography of Religions
    This branch of geography studies the geographic distribution of religious groups, their cultures, and built environments.
  • Medical Geography
    Medical geographers study the geographic distribution of disease (including epidemics and pandemics), illness, death and health care.
  • Recreation, Tourism, and Sport Geography
    The study of leisure-time activities and their impact on local environments. As tourism is one of the world's largest industries, it involves a great number of people making very temporary migrations and is thus of great interest to geographers.
  • Military Geography
    Practitioners of military geography are most often found in the military but the branch looks not only at the geographic distribution of military facilities and troops but also utilizes geographic tools to develop military solutions.
  • Political Geography
    Political geography investigates all aspects of boundaries, country, state, and national development, international organizations, diplomacy, internal country subdivisions, voting, and more.
  • Agricultural and Rural Geography
    Geographers in this branch study agriculture and rural settlement, the distribution of agriculture and the geographic movement and access to agricultural products, and land use in rural areas.
  • Transportation Geography
    Transportation geographers research transportation networks (both private and public) and the use of those networks for moving people and goods.
  • Urban Geography
    The branch of urban geography investigates the location, structure, development, and growth of cities — from tiny village to huge megalopolis.

Physical Geography

Physical geography is another major branch of geography. It is concerned with the natural features on or near the surface of the earth.

  • Biogeography
    Biographers study the geographic distribution of plants and animals on the earth in the subject known as biogeography.
  • Water Resources
    Geographers working in the water resources branch of geography look at the distribution and use of water across the planet within the hydrologic cycle and of human-developed systems for water storage, distribution, and use.
  • Climate
    Climate geographers investigate the distribution of long-term weather patterns and activities of the earth's atmosphere.
  • Global Change
    Geographers researching global change explore the long-term changes occurring to planet Earth based on human impacts on the environment.
  • Geomorphology
    Geomorphologists study the landforms of the planet, from their development to their disappearance through erosion and other processes.
  • Hazards Geography
    As with many branches of geography, hazards combine work in physical and human geography. Hazard geographers research extreme events known as hazards or disaster and explore the human interaction and response to these unusual natural or technological events.
  • Mountain Geography
    Mountain geographers look at the development of mountain systems and at the humans who live in higher altitudes and their adaptations to these environments.
  • Cryosphere Geography
    Cryosphere geography explores the ice of the earth, especially glaciers and ice sheets. Geographers look at the past distribution of ice on the planet and ice-cause features from glaciers and ice sheets.
  • Arid Regions
    Geographers studying arid regions examine the deserts and dry surfaces of the planet. The explore how humans, animals, and plants make their home in dry or arid regions and the use of resources in these regions.
  • Coastal and Marine Geography
    Within coastal and marine geography, there are geographers researching the coastal environments of the planet and how humans, coastal life, and coastal physical features interact.
  • Soils Geography
    Soil geographers study the upper layer of the lithosphere, the soil, of the earth and its categorization and patterns of distribution.

Other major branches of geography include:

Regional Geography

Many geographers focus their time and energy on studying a specific region on the planet. Regional geographers focus on areas as large as a continent or as small as an urban area. Many geographers combine a regional specialty with a specialty in another branch of geography.

Applied Geography

Applied geographers use geographic knowledge, skills, and techniques to solve problems in everyday society. Applied geographers are often employed outside of academic environment and work for private firms or governmental agencies.


It has often been said that geography is anything that can be mapped. While all geographers know how to display their research on maps, the branch of cartography focuses on improving and developing technologies in map-making. Cartographers work to create useful high-quality maps to show geographic information in the most useful format possible.

Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information Systems or GIS is the branch of geography that develops databases of geographic information and systems to display geographic data in a map-like format. Geographers in GIS work to create layers of geographic data and when layers are combined or utilized together in complex computerized systems, they can provide geographic solutions or sophisticated maps with the press of a few keys.

Geographic Education

Geographers working in the field of geographic education seek to give teachers the skills, knowledge, and tools they need to help combat geographic illiteracy and to develop future generations of geographers.

Historical Geography

Historical geographers research the human and physical geography of the past.

History of Geography

Geographers working in the history of geography seek to maintain the history of the discipline by researching and documenting the biographies of geographers and the histories of geographic studies and geography departments and organizations.

Remote Sensing

Remote sensing utilizes satellites and sensors to examine features on or near the earth's surface from a distance. Geographers in remote sensing analyze data from remote sources to develop information about a place where direct observation is not possible or practical.

Quantitative Methods

This branch of geography uses mathematical techniques and models to test hypothesis. Quantitative methods are often used in many other branches of geography but some geographers specialize in quantitative methods specifically.

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Your Citation
Rosenberg, Matt. "Major Sub-Disciplines of Geography." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Rosenberg, Matt. (2020, August 27). Major Sub-Disciplines of Geography. Retrieved from Rosenberg, Matt. "Major Sub-Disciplines of Geography." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).