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Geography can be divided into two broad categories: physical geography and cultural geography. Physical geographers study the processes that create the Earth's physical characteristics, such as landforms, soils, vegetation, minerals, water resources, oceans, and weather, and the significance of these processes to humans. Environmental geographers conduct research to determine the impact humans have on the environment and on natural processes. Common study issues include climate change, deforestation, and desertification. Climatologists analyze climate patterns and how and why they change. Geomorphologists, or physiographers, study the origin and development of landforms and interpret their arrangement and distribution over the earth. Mathematical geographers study the earth's size, shape, and movements, as well as the effects of the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies.
Other kinds of physical geographers include plant geographers, soil geographers, and animal geographers. They study the kinds and distributions of the earth's natural vegetation, soils, and animals. Cartographers research data necessary for mapmaking and design and draw the maps. Computer mappers are cartographers who use computers and graphics software to draw complex maps.
Cultural geography is concerned with political organizations, transportation systems, and a wide variety of other cultural activities. Cultural geographers study how aspects of geography relate to different cultures. This subspecialty has much in common with archaeology and anthropology.
Regional geographers study all the geographic aspects of a particular area, such as a river basin, an island, a nation, or even an entire continent. They are concerned with the physical, economic, political, and cultural characteristics of the area, and they are often called upon to advise on special problems of the region.
Economic geographers analyze the regional distribution of resources and economic activities, including manufacturing, mining, farming, trade, marketing, and communications.
Medical geographers study how health is affected by our physical setting, including environmental quality. They are interested in the way vegetation, minerals in the water supply, climate, and air pollution affect our health. They may also analyze access to health care by geographic region or setting.
Urban geographers, or urban and regional planners, focus on metropolitan problems of a geographic nature. They assist in planning and developing urban and suburban projects, such as residential developments, shopping centers, parking areas, and traffic control systems. They also advise business and industry on plant locations and other geographic issues.
Political geographers study such factors as national boundaries and the relation of natural resources and physical features to local, state, national, and international affairs. They also consult and advise on problems of a geopolitical nature.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a relatively new but rapidly growing field. Geographers known as geographic information system specialists combine computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and high-speed communications in the mapping, manipulation, storage, and selective retrieval of geographic data. In this way, they are able to display and analyze a wide variety of natural, cultural, and economic information in applications as diverse as worldwide weather forecasting, emergency management, crime prevention, and the monitoring of metropolitan land use. Geographers also use global positioning systems technology, online mapping tools such as Google Earth, and remote sensing technology to conduct research.