University of Colorado at Boulder


Undergrad Area of Concentration

Physical Geography

You may choose to follow a general geography major/minor or choose to concentrate your studies in one of four optional tracks, such as 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.

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 

GEOG courses related to Physical Geography.

Caution: These lists are incomplete.

Spring 2017

Num Num Sect Title Hrs   Instructor
1001 Env Systems 1 - Climate and Vegetation 4 Molotch
1011 Env Systems 2 - Landscapes and Water 4 Anderson
2271 Arctic Environment 3 Serreze
3023 Statistics for Geography 4 Koenig, Lora
3251 Mountain Geography 3 Williams
3601 Principles of Climate 3 Blanken
4023 5023 Quantitative Methods 4 Farmer
4093 5093 Remote Sensing of the Environment 4 Adler, John
4563 5563 Earth Analytics 3 Wasser, Leah
4261 Glaciers and Permafrost 3 Anderson
4311 5100 001 Watershed Biogeochemistry 3 Williams
4321 5321 Snow Hydrology 4 Molotch
4501 5501 Wtr Resources/Mgmt in the US West 3 Lander


Fall 2016

Num Num Sect Title Hrs   Instructor
1001 Env Systems 1 - Climate and Vegetation 4 Diane Stanitski
1011 Env Systems 2 - Landscapes and Water 4 Pitlick
3023 Statistics for Geography 4 Farmer, Carson
3251 Mountain Geography 3 Williams
3351 Biogeography 3 Tim Kittel
3511 Introduction to Hydrology 4 Barnard
3601 Principles of Climate 3 Derek Brown
3930 5930 Internship 3 Blanken
4093 5093 Remote Sensing of the Environment 4 Kevin Schaefer
4173 Research Seminar 3 Speilman
4201 Biometeorology 3 Blanken
4241 Principles of Geomorphology 4 Anderson
4271 5271 The Arctic Climate System 3 Serreze
4371 5371 Forest Geography 3 Barnard


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


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

News and Events related to physical geography


Aug 2016
Geography graduate students conduct water sampling and offer training in Cental Asia-Summer 2016

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

More News >>


Apr 2017
Wildfire regime shifts in Patagonian-Andean forest ecosystems: Feedbacks and consequences in the face of climate and land-use changes

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

More Events >>