Basic Geographic Terms: Definitions & Examples

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  • 0:03 What Is Geography?
  • 1:00 Geographic Terms & Maps
  • 3:28 Other Geographic Terms
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

This lesson includes a brief, yet informative introduction to the field of geography. You'll learn what geography is all about, as well as some definitions for basic geographic terms.

What Is Geography?

Do you check the weather forecast to decide what to wear each day? Do you refer to a map route when you're traveling somewhere you've never been before? If so, you're using geography in your everyday life. In this lesson, we're going to introduce some basic geographic terms that you need to know. First, let's remind ourselves: what exactly is geography?

Geography is the study of the surface and atmosphere of the earth. This includes the study of the:

  • Physical features of the earth
  • Composition of the atmosphere
  • Motions in the atmosphere

Geography also includes the study of both natural effects and features, and human effects and features. Humans have huge impacts on the earth's surface, and so studying human populations, resources, and land use is part of geography.

Geographic Terms & Maps

Let's now take a look at some basic geographic terms that involve maps:

Latitude is a way of measuring your position on the earth in a north to south direction. It is measured in degrees, with the equator representing 0°, and the poles representing 90°. For example, New York is at a latitude of 41° north. Latitudes in the southern hemisphere are measured in degrees south.

Longitude is a way of measuring your position on the earth in an east-west direction. Greenwich, England, is officially acknowledged as 0° longitude. If you are east of Greenwich your longitude is measured as a number of degrees east, and if you are west of Greenwich your longitude is measured as a number of degrees west.

A topographic map is a map that shows the height and steepness (or relief) of land using contour lines. When you get good at reading topographic maps you can look at a flat map and see it as if it were a 3-D image. Topographic maps are very important when hiking without a GPS system.

A political map is a map that shows who has authority in a particular area. For example, a political map of the world shows the countries of the world and their borders.

A scale is a feature on a map that tells you how large the things represented on the map are in real life compared to the way they are shown on the map. So for example, if a map scale read 1:2000 that would mean that 1 cm on the map represents 2000 cm in real life. This allows you to calculate distances between places shown on a map.

Generally, distribution refers to the way something is spread. In the case of geography, distribution is the way something is spread out in physical space. Studying distribution is a big part of geography. For example, you might look at the map of which crops are most commonly grown in which parts of France. Such a map shows distribution. Even when geography looks at human impacts and behavior, the distribution in space across the surface of the earth is always something to study and consider.

Other Geographic Terms

Let's now take a look at some other important geographic terms:

Meteorology is the science concerned with the atmosphere, and in particular the forecasting of weather. People who prepare weather reports for the news are meteorologists, but so are people who simply study the contents of the atmosphere. In addition, Meteorology involves studying:

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