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Using the Scientific Method in Geography

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.

The scientific method is a way to look into things to discover a more accurate and reliable understanding of the world. Using examples, explore how this method is used in geography to learn why Earth is the way it is. Updated: 11/05/2021

What is the Scientific Method?

The scientific method is a set of techniques for investigating things in the world and either acquiring new knowledge or improving upon previous knowledge. In the scientific method, a scientist will notice a question to be resolved, come up with a hypothesis, make observations and measurements to test that hypothesis, and then either make conclusions or come up with a new hypothesis and go back to the data collection stage. By following this systematic method, our knowledge and understanding can be more accurate and reliable.

But it isn't just scientists who seek to explain the world around us. Geographers do the same thing. In exploring our world, geographers will often come across a puzzle that is hard to explain or an observation that just doesn't make sense on first glance. Figuring out why things are the way they are is a big part of geography.

So geographers can also benefit from using the scientific method in their investigations. Let's go through a few examples of the scientific method in geography.

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  • 0:01 What Is the Scientific Method?
  • 1:04 Geographic Examples
  • 2:43 Lesson Summary
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Geographic Examples

One day a geographer is driving through the Rocky Mountains when they discover that the west side of the mountains is much greener and fuller with vegetation than the east side. Naturally, they start to wonder: Why is that?

After giving it some thought, they come up with a hypothesis: Perhaps there is more rainfall in the west. But a hypothesis is not a conclusion -- this has to be proven using the scientific method.

So next the geographer works on a method for collecting data about the rainfall on each side of the mountains. They go out, measure the rainfall, and analyze the results to see if their hypothesis was correct. Or perhaps they use secondary sources to check their hypothesis -- other people who have already collected the rainfall data they need. But wherever they get their data, they create graphs, charts or maps, and come up with a final conclusion -- just like a scientist.

For another example, let's say that a geographer is visiting several towns near a national park. They notice that one town is booked months in advance and super busy at this time of year. But the other town, while still somewhat busy, just doesn't have the same appeal. In fact, the other town is smaller and less developed. A geographer might ask the question: Why?

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