“I’m a great believer in geography being destiny.” – Abraham Verghese
Geography puts the understanding of social and physical processes within the context of place – recognising the great differences in cultures, political systems, economies, landscapes and environments across the world and exploring the links between them. (Royal Geographic Society). The three main branches of the subject are Physical Geography, Human Geography and Environmental Geography.
A student engaged in an academic study of a subject like geography, which contains a considerable amount of specialised terminology, will benefit tremendously from a glossary.
What is the definition of the term glossary?
A glossary is a list of terms in a specific subject, area of usage or field, with accompanying definitions. It will help, for example, to explain terminology used in your geography textbook.
What follows is a glossary, a geography dictionary in a sense, created by Superprof, to be of assistance to aspiring geographers and an aid to any geography teacher.
Geography Glossary for Terms A – F
Impress your geography teacher with your knowledge of the following terms:
Altitude: the height of anything above a given planetary reference plane, especially above sea level on earth.
Archipelago: a large group or chain of islands, e.g. Hawaii or the Galapagos.
Atmosphere: the layers of gases surrounding the earth; 21%oxygen, 78% nitrogen and 1% other gases.
Aspect: the direction toward which a slope faces with respect to a compass or to the Sun’s position in the sky; or the direction toward which a segment of coastline faces as it meets the ocean.
Batholith: a very large body of igneous rock, often granite, that has been exposed through the erosion of overlying rock.
Biogeography: the study of the distribution of ecosystems and biological species on the planet.
Biodiversity: the range of species, fauna and flora found in a particular area.
Built environment: the manmade spaces in which people work, live and recreate daily.
Butte: an isolated mountain or hill with steep sides, usually smaller than a mesa.
Caldera: a large depression shaped like a cauldron; a crater formed by a major volcanic eruption which led to the collapse of the mouth of the volcano.
Chaparral: vegetation consisting mainly of thorny bushes and tangled shrubs.
Cartography: the practice or science of drawing maps.
Climate change: a change in global or regional climate patterns, particularly since the latter half of the 20th century.
Conservation: the preservation, protection or restoration of the natural environment and wildlife.
Deforestation: the act of clearing a wide area of trees.
Delta: a triangular tract of sediment deposited at the mouth of a river, typically where it diverges into several outlets.
Drought: a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, which leads to a shortage of water.
Ecosystem: a geographic area where animals, plants and other organisms, as well as landscape and weather work together to form a bubble of life.
Environment: concerns everything that is around us: the living and non-living things as well as the air and all that it contains.
Evaporation: the process whereby liquid (e.g. water) turns into a gas; one of the key steps in the water cycle.
Fauna: the animal life found in a particular area. The fauna of an African grassland (savannah would include lions, zebra, elephants, giraffes and various buck).
Flora: the plant-life in a specific region. For example, fynbos (proteas, daisies, vygies and ericas) is typically found in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
Fossil fuel: a natural fuel such as gas or coal, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms.
Geography Glossary for Terms G – M
Here, again, are a good number of terms that your geography teacher would love you to know.
Greenhouse effect: a natural process whereby, through the absorption of solar energy by gases in the air, the Earth’s surface is heated.
Groundwater: the water present beneath the Earth’s surface between sediments and cracks in rock.
Hemisphere: half of a sphere; the equator divides the Earth into a Northern- and Southern Hemisphere and Greenwich Meridian splits it into an Eastern- and a Western Hemisphere.
Humidity: the amount of water vapour in the air.
Ice sheet: a mass of glacial ice larger than 50 000 square kilometres. These can be found in Greenland and in Antarctica.
Inorganic: something which is unrelated to organic life or matter; not vegetable or animal; or a chemical compound which does not contain carbon.
Irrigation: to water crops by bringing in water via canals, sprinklers and pipes or other man-made means, rather than depending solely on rainfall.
Isthmus: a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas of land across an expanse of water
Jet Stream: high velocity currents of air encountered high up in the atmosphere - between 8 and 15 kilometres high – which move in an easterly direction.
Katabatic: also called a gravity or downslope wind, a katabatic wind blows down a slope as a result of gravity. Normally occurring at night when highlands give off heat and are cooled.
Lagoon: a shallow body of water which is protected from the ocean by a sandbar, coral reefs or barrier islands.
Latitude: horizontal lines on a map indicating distance north and south of the equator (0°).
Longitude: (or meridians) vertical lines on a map indicating distances east and west of the Greenwich Meridian (0°).
Magnetic north: the direction that a compass points. It points towards magnetic north which differs from true or grid north.
Maritime climate: a climate greatly influenced by an oceanic environment with small variations in temperature and high relative humidity.
Meteorology: a branch of science concerned with phenomena and processes in the atmosphere, particularly as a way to forecast the weather.
Megalopolis: (also conurbation) a string of adjacent metropolitan areas which have run into one another and formed a very large, heavily populated urban environment
Monsoon: seasonal change in wind direction, causing dry and wet seasons throughout many tropical areas.
Moraine: soil and rocks carried and deposited by a glacier.
Geography Glossary for Terms N – S
Of course you would love to know what a geography dictionary has to say about the letters N, O P, Q, R and S. Here follows some interesting information:
Nadir: the direction pointing directly below a particular location; the lowest point that a celestial body reaches along its apparent daily path.
North Pole: the furthest point north of the equator, 90 degrees north of the equator.
Oasis: a place at which water is encountered in an otherwise barren, desolate environment.
Ocean Current: a continuous, directed, horizontal movement of sea water which is generated by a number of forces impacting on the water.
Oxbow: a wide U-shaped loop in a river; a lake formed when a meander is cut off from the main river.
Piedmont: generally, the foothills before a mountain range; a geographic range formed or lying at the base of mountains.
Physical weathering: the effect that changing temperatures have on rocks, which cause rocks to split and break apart. Sometimes this process is assisted by water: water accumulates in cracks and when it freezes, it expands and, over time, breaks the rock apart.
Plateau: (also referred to as tableland or a high plain) a large area which is relatively flat and considerably higher than the surrounding landscape, often with steep slopes on its sides.
Polar circle: lines of latitude located at 66½° north or south of the equator: the Antarctic Circle in the Southern Hemisphere and the Arctic Circle in the Northern Hemisphere.
Quarry: a place where rock, stone, sand, gravel or slate is excavated from the ground. Sometimes also called an open-pit mine.
Ravine: a result of stream erosion, a ravine is not as wide as a canyon; often deep and narrow.
Remote sensing: the remote acquisition of data about a location by making use of electromagnetic sensor technology via an aircraft or a satellite.
Rift Valley: a steep-sided valley formed by the downward movement of a large section of the earth’s surface between almost parallel fault lines, e.g. the Rift Valley of Africa.
Salt pan: a vast, flat stretch of land which is covered in salt, commonly to the exclusion of any vegetation.
Savannah/ savanna: tropical grasslands found mainly in Africa.
Steppe: an extensive grassland plain in Asia, without tress, except for those that grow near lakes and rivers.
Geography Glossary for Terms T – Z
Topographic map: a large-scale map that uses contour lines to represent three-dimensional features in a two-dimensional way.
Topography: a place’s physical features; the depiction and study of physical features of a landscape.
Tundra: a vast region where tree growth is impeded by low temperatures and a short growing season. This biome is encountered in Greenland and the sub-Arctic regions of North American and Europe.
Urban Geography: the study of cities, the built environment and urban processes.
Vent: an opening in the Earth’s crust through which lava, gas and hot vapour erupt.
Wadi: a valley, in Arabic-speaking parts of the world.
Wind erosion: the erosion of material, e.g. rocks, by the wind.
Yield: the amount of a particular crop that is produced on an area of land or farm.
Zeugen: found in a number of deserts around the world, a zeugen is a mushroom-shaped rock that has been shaped by wind erosion.
Geography enthusiasts, there you have it: more than 60 words that may pop up in a geography textbook or class. So, give this a good read through and surprise your geography teacher the next time he or she tries to stump the class with one of these beauties!
Even if your memory fails now and then, just remember geography rocks!
The platform that connects private tutors and students