University of Colorado at Boulder


Dept Theme

Physical Geography

Climatology, geomorphology, biogeography, arctic and alpine systems, hydrology, and global change

Physical geography integrates and inter-relates landforms, water, soils, climate, and vegetation as the major natural elements of the environment. The focus of physical geography is on the zone of the land, ocean, and atmosphere containing most of the world's organic life. Physical geography not only describes natural phenomena near the surface of the earth but, more importantly, seeks explanations of how and why the physical and biological processes act as they do. Physical geography includes processes studied in other physical and natural sciences such as meteorology, geology, biology, and soil science, however, physical geography is more than a mere composite of these other sciences. It takes a uniquely comprehensive approach to the processes of the natural environment, often with an emphasis on human modifications to the environment.

Faculty teaching and/or performing research in physical geography

Remote Sensing of Earth’s Ice Cover Physical
Geomorphology; Weathering; Hydrology; Glaciology Physical
Jennifer K.
Fire ecology; Land use/landcover change; Global change ecology; Tropical forest ecology Physical
Holly R.
Ecohydrology; Stable Isotope Geochemistry; Forest Hydrology; Tree Physiology Physical
Climatology;  Biometeorology Physical
Spatial-Temporal Dynamics, Computational GIScience, Spatial Interactions, Transportation Physical
Surface Water and Snow Hydrology; Remote Sensing; Ecohydrology Physical
Geomorphology; Water Resources; Natural Hazards Physical
Arctic climate; global implications; and climate warming in the Arctic Physical
Biogeography; Conservation Physical
Alpine Biogeochemistry; Hydrology; Snow Hydrology; and Nutrient Cycling. Physical

Graduate Students in physical geography

34 students total. TIP: To sort by more than one column, hold down the shift key while clicking an additional column header.

Name Degree     Specialties Advisor
Amante, Christopher Ph.D. Sea ice; glacier melt; climate change Abdalati
Andrus, Robert Ph.D. biogeography; dendrochronology; disturbance ecology; forest ecology Veblen
Baker, Emily M.A. snow hydrology; forest disturbance Molotch
Barnhart, Theodore Ph.D. terrestrial hydrology Molotch
Bobeck, Jessica M.A. Remote sensing; cryosphere; geophysics Abdalati
Burns, Sean Ph.D. Subalpine Forest Carbon and Water Cycling Blanken
Bush, Sidney M.A. Hydrology; ecohydrology; geochemical transport processes Barnard
Chai, Rachel M.A. Biogeography and entomology Veblen
Chapman, Teresa Ph.D. Biogeography Veblen
Crawford, Alexander Ph.D. climate change; polar research; snow and ice Serreze
Crepinsek, Sara M.A. Climatology; Arctic Meteorology Serreze
Dadashi, Sepideh Ph.D. GIS, remote sensing Balch
Eddy, Alex Ph.D. Geomorphology; hydrology Anderson
Grant, Glenn Ph.D. Remote sensing, Polar climate Serreze
Grigsby, Shane Ph.D. Ice sheets & glaciers, climate change, remote sensing, machine learning Abdalati
Hicks, Julia Ph.D. Biogeography, Conservation Biology, Forest Ecology, Avian Diversity Veblen
Hill, Alice Ph.D. snow and ice; water resources and repurcussions in a changing climate Williams
Jennings, Keith Ph.D. Snow and floods in mountain environments Molotch
Johnson, Brittany Ph.D. Fluvial geomorphology Pitlick
Longenecker, H.E. Ph.D. Climatology; Climate Change; Hazard/Risk Vulnerability Travis
MacFerrin, Michael Ph.D. Cryosphere-sea, earth, ice interactions; remote sensing; GIS Abdalati
Mahood, Adam M.A. Plant ecology; remote sensing Balch
Mills, Taylor Ph.D. Small-scale hydrologic systems; water chemistry Anderson
Moukomla, Sitthisak Ph.D. Remote sensing; Ocean-land-atmosphere interaction Blanken
Naficy, Cameron Ph.D. Disturbance ecology; tree ecophysiology; climate variability; restoration; remote sensing Veblen
Petchprayoon, Pakorn Ph.D. Remote Sensing & Surface Energy Balance Blanken
Rodman, Kyle Ph.D. Biogeography, climate spatial analysis; forest ecology Veblen
Schneider, Dominik Ph.D. mountain and snow hydrology, interaction between vegetation and snowmelt runoff, water resources Molotch
Schreiber, Erika Ph.D. Climatology; Cryosphere Serreze
Snow, Tasha Ph.D. Cryosphere remote sensing; glaciology Abdalati
Weber, Kristy M.A. Climate change, carbon flux, micrometeorology and instrumentation Blanken
Wilson, Alana Ph.D. climate change, water resources and the cryosphere Williams
Yilmaz, Bunyamin M.A. watershed management; avalanche control Williams
Zhang, Qinghuan Ph.D. hydrology and water resources Williams

GEOG courses related to physical geography.

Caution: These lists are incomplete.

Spring 2016

Num Num Sect Title Hrs   Instructor
1001 Env Systems 1 - Climate and Vegetation 4 Barreto de Andrade, Rafae
1011 Env Systems 2 - Landscapes and Water 4 Knowles, John
3023 Statistics for Earth Sciences 4 Parrr, David
3511 Introduction to Hydrology 4 Serreze
3601 Principles of Climate 3 Blanken
4023 5023 Quantitative Methods 4 Farmer
4093 5093 Remote Sensing of the Environment 4 Adler, John
4100 5100 001 Special Topics: Earth Analytics 3 Balch
4261 Glaciers and Permafrost 3 Anderson
4321 5321 Snow Hydrology 4 Williams
4401 5401 Soils Geography 3 Liptzin, Daniel
4501 5501 Wtr Resources/Mgmt in the US West 3 Lander
5100 006 Special Topics: Advanced Topics in Biometeorology 3 Blanken
5161 001 Research Design in Physical Geography 3 Veblen
5241 001 Topics: Fluvial Geomorphology 3 Pitlick


Fall 2015

Num Num Sect Title Hrs   Instructor
1001 Env Systems 1 - Climate and Vegetation 4 Barnard
1011 Env Systems 2 - Landscapes and Water 4 Pitlick
3023 Statistics for Geography 4 Farmer, Carson
3251 Mountain Geography 3 Williams
3351 Biogeography 3 Hicks
3511 Introduction to Hydrology 4 Barnard
3601 Principles of Climate 3
4093 5093 Remote Sensing of the Environment 4 Kevin Schaefer
4120 5100 Special Topics in Geography - Global Change Ecology 3 Balch
4173 Research Seminar 3 Riosmena
4201 Biometeorology 3 Blanken
4241 Principles of Geomorphology 4 Anderson
4271 5271 The Arctic Climate System 3 Serreze
5152 History and Theory of Geography 3 Fluri
5241 001 Topics in Physical Geog: 3 Veblen
5241 002 Topics in Physical Geog: 1 Anderson
6211 Readings in Climatology 1 Blanken


Summer 2015

Num Num Sect Title Hrs   Instructor
1001 100 Env Systems 1 - Climate and Vegetation 4 Crawford
3251 001 Mountain Geography 3 Smith
3251 200 Mountain Geography 3 Smith
4100 570 Special Topics: Hydrologic Field Methods and Research Design 3 Hill
4110 570 Environments and Peoples: Boulder's Open Space 3 Pike


Undergrad Courses Applicable to a Concentration in Physical Geography

The following two courses are prerequisites to all upper division courses listed further below.  
GEOG 1001  Environmental Systems 1: Climate and Vegetation** 
GEOG 1011  Environmental Systems 2: Landscapes and Water**

Among upper division courses, the following sequences are suggested:   
Climatology:  GEOG 3301; 3601; 4331 
Biogeography:  GEOG 3351; 4351; 4371; 4401 
Hydrology and Geomorphology: GEOG 3511; 4241; 4321; 4401 

In addition, you will find it important to complete one course in statistics at the time you commence upper division work in physical geography. Students considering graduate school in physical geography are strongly encouraged to complete a year of coursework in general chemistry, physics, calculus, and statistics. 

Upper Division Courses: 
GEOG 3301  Analysis of  Climate and Weather Observations**  (Prereq: GEOG 1001 or ATOC 1050/1060, 3600 and a statistics course) 
GEOG 3601  Principles of Climate**  (Prereq: 1 semester calculus or instructor approval) 
GEOG 3351  Biogeography  (Prereq: GEOG 1001) 
GEOG 3511  Introduction to Hydrology**  (Prereq:  GEOG 1011) 
GEOG 4241  Principles of Geomorphology**   (Prereq: GEOG 1011)  (Restricted to Jr/Sr GEOG/GEOL/ENVS majors) 
GEOG 4261  Glaciers and Permafrost   (Recommended Prereq:  GEOG 4241)  
GEOG 4271  The Arctic Climate System   (Prereq:  GEOG 1001) 
GEOG 4311  Watershed Biogeochemistry   (Prereq:  GEOG 1011, 3511) 
GEOG 4321  Snow Hydrology (Prereq: GEOG 1001 and 1011; any statistics course)   
GEOG 4331  Mountain Climatology  (Prereq GEOG 1001 or ATOC 1050/1060) 
GEOG 4371  Forest Geography: Principles and Dynamics  (Prereq: GEOG 1001) 
GEOG 4383  Methods of Vegetation Analysis (Prereq or Coreq GEOG 4371) 
GEOG 4401  Soils Geography  (Prereq 1011; Recommended Prereq inorganic chemistry) 
GEOG 4411  Methods of Soil Analysis  (Prereq: GEOG 1001 or 1011; Prereq/Coreq GEOG 4401/5401) 

**core curriculum course 


Undergrad Courses in other Departments Related to Physical Geography

Caution: These courses do not count as hours in the Geography Major.
Check with the appropriate department for the prerequisites for these courses. 

ATOC  1050   Weather and the Atmosphere (and 1070 lab)**  
ATOC  1060   Our Changing Environment: El Nino, Ozone, and Climate** 
CHEM  1111   General Chemistry 1*
CHEM  1131   General Chemistry 2** 
EBIO  1210   General Biology 1** 
EBIO  1220   General Biology 2** 
EBIO  2040   Principles of Ecology 
EBIO  3040   Conservation Biology 
EBIO  3160   Paleoecology 
EBIO  3180   Global Ecology** 
EBIO 4060 Landscape Ecology 
GEOL 3030 Introduction to Hydrogeology 
GEOL  3040   Global Change: The Recent Geological Record** 
GEOL  3520   Environmental Issues in Geosciences 
GEOL  4360   Glacial Geology   
MATH  1300   Analytic Geometry & Calculus 1** 
MATH  2300   Analytic Geometry & Calculus 2 
MATH  2510   Introduction to Statistics   
PHYS  1110   General Physics 1**  
PHYS  1120   General Physics 2** 
PHYS  1140   Experimental Physics 1** 

**core curriculum course 

Selected Publications by Faculty and Graduate Students associated with physical geography


 Waleed Abdalati

 Suzanne Anderson

Anderson, RS, Anderson, SP, and Tucker, GE . (2013). Rock damage and regolith transport by frost: An example of climate modulation of critical zone geomorphology. . Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 38: 299-316. doi:10.1002/esp.3330

Anderson, SP, Anderson, RS, and Tucker, GE . (2012). Landscape scale linkages in critical zone evolution. Comptes rendus- Geoscience 344: 586-596. doi:10.1016/j.crte.2012.10.008

Hinckley, E.-L., Ebel, B.A., Barnes, R.T., Anderson, R.S., Williams, M.W., and Anderson, S.P. (2012). Aspect control of water movement on hillslopes near the rain-snow transition of the Colorado Front Range, U.S.A. Hydrological Processes. doi:10.1002/hyp.9549

Frederick, ZA, Anderson, SP, and Striegl, R. (2011). Annual estimates of water and solute export from 42 tributaries to the Yukon River. Hydrological Processes. 10.1002/hyp.8255

Riggins, SG, Anderson, RS, Anderson, SP, and Tye, AM. (2011). Solving a conundrum of a steady-state hillslope with variable soil depths and production rates, Bodmin Moor, UK. Geomorphology, 128: 73-84.

 Jennifer K. Balch

Balch, J.K. (2014). Drought and fire change sink to source. Nature 506: 41-42.

Brando*, P.M., J.K. Balch*, D.C. Nepstad*, D.C. Morton, F.E. Putz, M.T. Coe, D. Silvério, M.N. Macedo, E.A. Davidson, C. Nóbrega, A. Alencar, B. Soares-Filho. (2014). Abrupt increases in Amazonian tree mortality due to drought-fire interactions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 111: 6347-6352. *Co-lead authors contributed equally .

Balch, J.K., B.A. Bradley, C. D’Antonio, and J. Gomez-Dans. (2013). Introduced annual grass increases regional fire activity across the arid western USA (1980-2009). Global Change Biology 19:173-183.

Davidson, E.A., A. Araujo, P. Artaxo, J.K. Balch, I.F. Brown, M. Bustamante, M.T. Coe, R.S. DeFries, M. Keller, M. Longo, J.W. Munger, W. Schroeder, B.S. Soares-Filho, and C.M. Souza, and S.C. Wofsy. (2012). The Amazon basin in transition. Nature 481: 321-328.

Bowman, D.M.J.S.*, J.K. Balch*, P. Artaxo, W.J. Bond, J.M. Carlson, M.A. Cochrane, C.M. D’Antonio, R.S. DeFries, J.C. Doyle, S.P. Harrison, F.H. Johnston, J.E. Keeley, M.A. Krawchuk, C.A. Kull, J.B. Marston, M.A. Moritz, I.C. Prentice, C.I. Roos, A.C. Scott, T.W. Swetnam, G.R. van der Werf, and S.J. Pyne. (2009). Fire in the Earth system. Science 324:481-484. Selected for “Faculty of 1000 Biology” list of important articles. *Co-lead authors contributed equally.

 Holly R. Barnard

 Peter Blanken

Knowles, J.F., Blanken, P.D., Williams, M.W., and Chowanski, K.M. (2012). Energy and surface moisture seasonally limit evaporation and sublimation from snow-free alpine tundra. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, 157, 106-115.

Blanken, P.D., Spence, C., Hedstrom, N., and Lenters, J. (2011). Evaporation from Lake Superior: 1. Physical controls and processes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 37(4), 707-716.

Liu, H., Blanken, P.D., Weidinger, T., Nordbo, A., and Vesala, T. (2011). Variability in cold front activities modulating cool-season evaporation from a southern inland water in the USA. Environmental Research Letters, 6(2). DOI:10.1088/1748-9326/6/2/024022

Petchprayoon, P., Blanken, P.D., Ekkawatpanit, C., and Hussein, K. (2010). Hydrological impacts of land use/land cover change in a large river basin in central-northern Thailand. International Journal of Climatology, 30(13), 1917-1930. DOI:10.1002/joc.2131

Alfieri, J.G., Blanken, P.D., Smith, D. and Morgan, J.A. (2009). Concerning the measurement and magnitude of heat, water vapor and carbon dioxide exchange from a semiarid grassland. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 48(5), 982-996.

 Sarah Hart

 Noah Molotch

Perrot, D., N.P. Molotch, K.N. Musselman, E. Pugh. (2014). Modeling the effects of the Mountain Pine Beetle on snowmelt in a subalpine forest. Ecohydrology, 7(2), 226 – 241. doi:10.1002/eco.1329

Guan, B., N.P. Molotch, D.E. Waliser, E.J. Fetzer, and P.J. Neiman. (2013). The 2010/11 Snow Season in California’s Sierra Nevada: Role of Atmospheric Rivers and Modes of Large-scale Variability. Water Resources Research, 49, 6731–6743. doi:10.1002/wrcr.20537

Musselman, K.N., N.P. Molotch, S.A. Margulis, M. Lehning, D. Gustafson. (2012). Improved snowmelt simulations with a canopy model forced with photo-derived direct beam canopy transmissivity. Water Resources Research, 48, 10. doi:10.1029/2012WR012285

Musselman, K.N., N.P. Molotch, S.A. Margulis, P.B. Kirchner, R.C. Bales. (2012). Influence of canopy structure and direct beam solar irradiance on snowmelt rates in a mixed conifer forest. Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, VOL. 161, Pgs. 46-56. DOI:10.1016/j.agrformet.2012.03.011

Trujillo, E., N.P. Molotch, M. Goulden, A. Kelly, R. C. Bales. (2012). Elevation-dependent influence of snow accumulation on forest greening. Nature Geoscience. doi:10.1038/ngeo1571

 John Pitlick

Anderson, S., and J. Pitlick. (2014). Using repeat lidar to estimate sediment transport in a steep stream . Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface, v. 119, p. 621-643. doi:10.1002/2013JF002933

Mueller, E.R. and J. Pitlick. (2014). Sediment supply and channel morphology in mountain river systems: 2. Single thread to braided transitions. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface, v. 119, p. 1516–1541. doi:10.1002/2013JF003045

Mueller, E.R., and J. Pitlick. (2013). Sediment supply and channel morphology in mountain river systems: 1. Relative importance of lithology, topography, and climate . Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface, v. 118, p. 2325–2342. doi:10.1002/2013JF002843

Pitlick, J., J. Marr, and J. Pizzuto. (2013). Width adjustment in experimental gravel-bed channels in response to overbank flows. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface, v. 118, p. 553-570. doi:10.1002/jgrf.20059

Segura C., J. H. McCutchan, W. M. Lewis, and J. Pitlick. (2011). The influence of channel bed disturbance on algae biomass in a Colorado mountain stream. Ecohydrology, v. 4, p. 411-421. doi:10.1002/eco.142

 Tania Schoennagel

 Mark Serreze

Serreze, M.C., A.P. Barrett, J.C. Stroeve, D.N. Kindig and M.M. Holland. (2009). The emergence of surface-based Arctic amplification. The Cryosphere, 3, 11-19.

Serreze.,M.C. and A.P. Barrett. (2008). The summer cyclone maximum over the central Arctic Ocean. J. Climate, 21, 1048-1065.

Serreze, M.C., A.P. Barrett, A.G. Slater, M. Steele, J. Zhang and K.E. Trenberth. (2007). The large-scale energy budget of the Arctic. J. Geophys. Res., 112, D11122. doi:10.1029/2006JD008230

Serreze, M.C., M.M. Holland and J. Stroeve. (2007). Perspectives on the Arctic's rapidly shrinking sea-ice cover. Science, 315, 1533-1536.

Serreze, M.C., A.P. Barrett, A.G. Slater, R.A. Woodgate, K. Aagaard, R.B. Lammers, M. Steele, R. Moritz, M. Meredith and C.M. Lee. (2006). The large-scale freshwater cycle of the Arctic. J. Geophys. Res., 111, C11010. doi:10.1029/2005JC003424

 Tom Veblen

 Mark Williams

Leopold M, Williams MW, Caine N, Volkel J, Dethier D. (2011). Internal Structure of the Green Lake 5 Rock Glacier, Colorado Front Range, USA. Permafrost and Periglacial Processes. Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI:10.1002/ppp.706

Freppaz M, D Godone, G Filippa, M Maggioni, S Lunardi, MW Williams, E Zanini. (2010). Soil Erosion Caused by Snow Avalanches: A Case Study in the Aosta Valley (NW-ITALY). Arctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research, Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 412-421.

Schmidt S.K., R.C. Lynch, A.J. King, D. Karki, M.S. Robeson, L. Nagy, M.W. Williams, M.S. Mitter, and K.R. Freeman. (2010). Phylogeography of microbial phototrophs in the dry valleys of the high Himalayas and Antarctica. Proceedings of the Royal Society. B, pp 1-7. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.1254

Williams MW, TA Erickson, and JL Petrzelka. (2010). Visualizing meltwater flow through snow at the centimetre-to-metre scale using a snow guillotine. Hydrological Processes. DOI:10.1002/hyp.7630

Filippa G, M Freppaz, MW Williams, E Zanini. (in press). Major Element Chemistry in inner-alpine Snowpacks (Aosta Valley Region, North Western Italy). Cold Regions Science and Technology. doi:10.1016/j.coldregions.2010.07.005

Grad Students

News and Events related to physical geography


Apr 2016
Seth Spielman wins 2016 Distinguished Scholar Award

Aug 2015
NEW BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT—Mountains: A Very Short Introduction, by Martin F. Price, PhD, CU Geog

Dec 2013
River research by Erich Mueller and John Pitlick featured in EOS, 3 December 2013

Oct 2013
Mark Williams Receives Fulbright Award for 2013-2014

Jun 2013
Monica T. Rother and Thomas T. Veblen receive a Colorado Mountain Club Foundation Fellowship

Oct 2012
Verdict’s still out on pine-beetle-kill fire effects

Sep 2012
CU-led mountain forest study shows vulnerability to climate change

Aug 2012
Monica T. Rother receives NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant

Jun 2012
John Pitlick Named GSA Fellow

Jun 2012
Monica T. Rother receives an award from the John W. Marr Ecology Fund

Jun 2012
Monica T. Rother receives a Colorado Mountain Club Foundation Fellowship

Aug 2011
Southern South American wildfires expected to increase

Jun 2011
NSF awards CU-Boulder $5.9 million grant for alpine ecosystem research

Jun 2011
Monica T. Rother receives a Colorado Mountain Club Foundation Fellowship

Apr 2011
Erich Mueller and Andrew Linke win Gilbert White Fellowships

Apr 2011
Sarah Hart Receives John Marr Ecology Fund Award

Apr 2011
Adina Racoviteanu Receives Outstanding Student Oral Presentation Award

Apr 2011
Danielle Perrot Receives Outstanding Student Poster Award

Mar 2011
Morgan Zeliff Receives the Young Investigator’s Award from the 2011 BASIN Isotope Conference

Feb 2011
Mark Williams’ “Water Resources in the 4 Corners” project featured at the CU Regents meeting

More News >>


Jan 2016
Global records of lake surface temperature reveal a century of warming

Sep 2013
Post-fire vegetation dynamics and feedbacks on fire susceptibility in Nothofagus forests of New Zealand

Sep 2013
Climate change, disturbance interactions and adaptive forest management in Central Europe and Colorado

Sep 2011
CU Museum of Natural History exhibit Burning Issues: The Fourmile Canyon Fire

Dec 2010
Sedge Meadows of the Wyoming Basin Shrub-Steppe—Are they Wetlands?

Nov 2010
A Hydrologic Perspective on Land-Atmosphere Interactions: Moving from Point Observations to Watershed Fluxes

Nov 2010
Spatial-complexity in scenarios of eco-hydrologic responses to warming in the Western US

Oct 2010
From research to service: Informing adaptation in a changing climate

Oct 2010
Info session for undergraduates.

Sep 2010
Chemical potamology: Balancing the dissolved and solid river flux

Apr 2010
Small Scale Snowpack Surface Roughness Variability Measurements

Apr 2010
Contribution of melting glaciers to the hydrology of Nepal

Mar 2010
Himalayan glaciers and 'voodoo science': Integrating remote sensing, field methods and indigenous knowledge about climate change

Jan 2010
Ice Sheets, Sea Ice and Satellites: Transforming Polar Paradigms

Nov 2009
Soil and snow avalanches: A connected system in the Italian Alps

Oct 2009
From the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada rises the city of Los Angeles: new tools for water resource management at a time of crisis

Oct 2009
Sediment supply to channels: How coarse is it, and how coarse is too coarse for salmon spawning substrates?

Oct 2009
Not All Water Becomes Wine: Sulfur as an Opportune Tracer of Hydrochemical Losses

Sep 2009
Signals and noise: examining media representations of climate change

Sep 2009
Panel Discussion on research publications and funding in physical and human geography

More Events >>