Thompson Rivers University

Open Learning

GEOG 1221
Introduction to Physical Geography

4.0 Credits


You will probably find this course challenging, but hopefully also of great interest, particularly if you have a geographical background or if your main academic areas so far have been non-scientific.

Units 1 through 8 are designed to lead you through the material clearly and logically, highlighting and discussing the main points. You are given many opportunities to check your progress at regular intervals to make sure that you understand what you have covered before progressing to the next step. As you move further into the course, your progress will probably be made smoother and more interesting as you realize that you are learning more and more about your everyday environment. You will be able to see and relate to the processes about which you are learning. Many previous students of the course have made comments such as, "I will never look at landscapes and the environment in the same way again. I can see and understand so much more." We hope you feel the same way when you have finished the course.

The first part of the course focuses on the all-important role of solar energy in our physical and biological environment (the biosphere). You will examine the interactions of solar energy with the earth's atmosphere and surface, and the ways in which atmospheric circulation, precipitation, and weather systems are generated.

The second part of the course deals with the cycling of water and other earth resources in the living zone or biosphere. You will investigate the manner in which these cycles, together with energy flows, influence the nature and distribution of ecosystems and vegetation. A major theme in the course is the ways in which human activities interact with the physical features and processes in the environment. These activities may be a response to environmental processes, and they may also be an important influence on those processes.

Throughout the course, you will be asked to observe and interpret aspects of your local environment in light of what you have learned.

Delivery Method

Delivery is self-paced, allowing you the flexibility to proceed through the course according to your own schedule. TRU-OL has no admission requirements and you can register for this course at any time throughout the year.




Introduction to Physical Geography focuses on the characteristics and spatial relationships of climate, the water cycle, and ecosystems. Specifically, by the time you have finished this course, you should be able to:

  • Describe how incoming solar radiation interacts with the earth's atmosphere and surface.
  • Understand how the global atmospheric circulation, wind systems, and ocean currents are generated.
  • Explain the important role of water in the atmosphere and the processes that lead to condensation, cloud formation, and precipitation.
  • Describe the weather and climates associated with different air masses and storm systems, and relate them to daily weather conditions in your home area.
  • Explain why weather and climate vary from region to region in British Columbia.
  • Discuss how atmospheric precipitation is transformed into surface water (rivers and lakes), soil moisture, and groundwater.
  • Explain how the characteristics and distribution of the vegetation cover of the earth vary in response to various environmental factors.

Course Outline

Introduction to Physical Geography comprises eight units of study, five graded assignments, and a final exam. A list of the topics covered in the units is provided here:

Unit 1: Earth's Environmental Systems

  • Geography, Physical Geography, and the Study of the Environment
  • The Earth as a Globe
  • Earth, Sun, and Seasons
  • Atmosphere and Oceans

Unit 2: Radiation Balance and the Thermal Environment

  • Solar Radiation and the Energy Balance
  • Insolation and the Thermal Environment

Unit 3: Atmospheric Circulation

  • The Causes of Atmospheric Circulation
  • Patterns of Global Atmospheric Circulation
  • The Ocean Circulation and Currents

Unit 4: Moisture, Air Masses, and Storms

  • Atmospheric Moisture and Precipitation
  • Air Masses and Weather Disturbances

Unit 5: Global and Regional Climates

  • Bases of Climatic Classification
  • Climate Types
  • Climates of British Columbia

Unit 6: Water at the Earth's Surface

  • The Water Budget and the Hydrological Cycle
  • Soil Water and the Soil Water Budget
  • Groundwater and Surface Water

Unit 7: Energy and Matter in the Biosphere

  • Energy and Ecosystems
  • Biogeochemical Cycles

Unit 8: Biogeographic Processes

  • Plants, Vegetation, and Environment
  • Global and Regional Patterns of Vegetation

Maximum Completion

30 weeks

Required Text and Materials

Students will receive all course materials including the textbook in their course package.

  1. Strahler, Alan and O. W. Archibold. Physical Geography: Science and Systems of the Human Environment. Canadian Version, 5th Edition. John Wiley & Sons, 2011.
    Type: Textbook ISBN: 978-0-470-67885-5
  1. Ministry of Forests Research Branch, Province of British Columbia. Biogeoclimatic Zones of British Columbia. Ministry of Forests Research Branch, Province of British Columbia, 1999.
    Type: Map

Additional Requirements

Computer with Internet is required for the web-based version of this course.

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Primary communication is by phone if you are taking the print version of the course or by email if you are taking the web version. You will receive a welcome letter or e-mail from the Open Learning Faculty Member with contact information when you start the course.


In order to successfully complete this course, you must obtain at least 50% on the final examination and 50% overall. The following chart shows how the final grade is determined for this course.

Assignment 1* 25%
Assignment 2 10%
Assignment 3 10%
Assignment 4 10%
Assignment 5 10%
Final Exam* 35%

*Mandatory Course Component

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