Geography Program - Careers in Physical Geography & Earth Science

Geography has a strong link to the natural sciences through physical geography and earth science. Courses that may be offered in these fields include climatology, meteorology, oceanography, geomorphology (landforms), soils, biogeography (distribution and ecology of plants), zoogeography (distribution and ecology of animals), and natural resources. Courses in physical geography are important because they deal with earth processes that concern the human use of the earth. For instance, agriculture is dependent upon such physical processes as climate, weather, and the format on and erosion of soils.

Those with a good background in physical geography are well prepared to deal with problems of air pollution, water pollution, and the management and disposal of solid, toxic, and hazardous wastes. Physical geographers also study the impact of such natural hazards as hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic erupt ons, and earthquakes.

Weather Forecaster

Weather forecasting begins with a good understanding of climate, wind systems, and ocean currents. Forecasters must be familiar with local conditions and with weather events throughout the country. They study, predict, and report on everything from daily weather conditions to such dangerous phenomena as tornadoes and wind shear (updrafts and downdrafts of special importance to pilots). In addition to working for television and radio stations, weather forecasters work for the government and for large agribusiness corporations.. In addition to their background in geography, they should have studied earth science, physics, and some chemistry.

Outdoor Guide

Many physical geographers work as outdoor guides. Their educational makes them ideally suited for this work, since they have studied all aspects of the physical environment and have usually taken related courses in biology, zoology, and environmental management. Outdoor guides must know about wildlife, landforms, climates, soils, natural vegetation, and the ways in which creatures are adapted to life in their specific habitats. Some outdoor guides lead canoe trips; others take people hiking, horseback riding in the mountains, fishing, or hunting. Many outdoor guides work on big-game ranches, whose numbers are expanding rapidly, particularly in Texas and California.

Coastal Zone Manager

The zone where land and ocean meet is critical for both humans and wildlife. Such environmentally sensitive areas as marshlands, bays, and river mouths have to adjust to the onslaughts of cities, ports, industries, roads, and thousands of pleasure-seeking tourists. Geographers can make a major contribution by helping to plan and manage the coastal zone. The job of the coastal zone manager often dovetails with the work of the oceanographer in their mutual concern for the continental shelf (the gently sloping submarine plain that borders the continent), particularly when faced with such man-made disasters as oil spills.

Soil Conservationist/Agricultural Extension Agent

Rural communities are very aware of the work of the county extension agent. Farmers rely on the agent to provide information on soil conditions, slope of land, and any problems that might threaten crops or livestock. Soil conservation agents help farmers prepare a plan to preserve their precious soil resources. This may include the use of air photos showing slope and drainage and of contour maps that will guide the farmer's plow. For these jobs, you will need to have studied agriculture or soil science.


Hydrologists study sources of water and prepare plans for the wise long-term use of this critical resource. In the drier areas of the United States, the availability of water is crucial for agriculture, municipal uses, and recreation. Some of this water comes from surface sources, such as rivers and lakes, but some comes from underground aquifers (water-bearing rock strata). Even where water is not scarce, problems with groundwater contamination and flooding require the expertise of hydrologists. Hydrologists may be employed by governments at any level or in the private sector.

Source: Association of American Geographers (AAG)

Questions, Comments, Suggestions?

If you would like more information about geography at Plattsburgh State, please contact

Dr. Edwin Romanowicz, Director, Center for Earth and Environmental Science
Office: Hudson Hall 132
Phone: (518) 564-2028
Toll-Free Phone: (877) 554-1041