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The study of physical and human landscapes, the processes that affect them, how and why they change over time, and how and why they vary spatially. Geographers consider, to varying degrees, both natural and human influences on the landscape, although a common division separates human and physical geography. Physical geographers may study landforms (geomorphology), water (hydrology), climate and meteorology (climatology), the biotic environment (biogeography), or soils (pedology). Human geographers include urban, regional, and environmental planners; cultural geographers; regional and area specialists; economic geographers; political geographers; transportation analysts; location analysts; and specialists in the spatial nature of ethnic or gender issues. See also Biogeography; Climatology; Geomorphology; Hydrology; Pedology.
Many geographers are involved with the development of techniques and applications that support spatial analytical studies or the display of spatial information and data. Maps, whether printed, digital, or conceptual, are the basic tools of geography. Geographers are involved in map interpretation and use, as well as map production and design. Cartographers supervise the compilation, design, and development of maps, globes, and other graphic representations. See also Cartography.
A geographic information system (GIS) is a relatively new technology that combines the advantages of computer-assisted cartography with those of spatial database management. It facilitates the storage, retrieval, and analysis of spatial information in the form of digital map “overlays,” each representing a different landscape component (terrain, hydrologic features, roads, vegetation, soil types, or any mappable factor). Each of these data layers can be fitted digitally to the same map scale and map projection—in any combination—permitting the analysis of relationships among any combination of environmental variables for which data have been input into the geographic information systems. See also Geographic information systems.
Many geographers are applied practitioners, solving problems using a variety of tools, including computer-assisted cartography, statistical methods, remotely sensed imagery, the Global Positioning System (GPS), and geographic information systems. Today, nearly all geographers, regardless of their subdisciplinary emphases, employ some or all of these techniques in their professional endeavors. See also Physical geography.