GEOG 1221
Introduction to Physical Geography

4.0 Credits


This course provides an opportunity for understanding part of the complex physical and biological environment in which human beings live. It introduces basic processes that influence the characteristics and spatial relationships of climate, water cycle and vegetation. The first part of the course examines the interactions of solar energy with the Earth's atmosphere and surface, and how atmospheric circulation, precipitation, and weather systems are generated. The second part of the course covers the cycling of water and other Earth resources within the living zone - the biosphere. It focuses on how these cycles, together with the flows of energy, influence the nature and distribution of ecosystems and vegetation. Throughout the course, students look at patterns of human activity that are in response to and have an effect upon environmental processes, and are asked to observe and interpret aspects of their local environment in light of what they have learned.

Delivery Method




Note: This course includes a lab component with a value of 1 credit (of the total 4 credits).


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 this course.

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Primary communication is through Blackboard's "Mail" tool or by phone. You will receive the necessary contact information when you start your 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