Geography is a broad field that covers many areas. One of these areas is geomorphology, which is the study of the Earth's topographic landforms and water bodies. Geomorphologists study present and past landscapes and formations, and use observations, experiments and numeric models to analyze patterns and predict future land formations and floods. There are key areas that geomorphologists need to be educated in to succeed in the field.
Geomorphology is a specialty of geography. Usually, geomorphologists earn a bachelor’s degree in geology or earth sciences, with a concentration or minor in geomorphology. It is common for someone in the field to hold a geomorphology-specific master’s or doctoral degree. Schools with geomorphology graduate programs include Boise State University and the State University of New York at Binghamton. These graduate degrees generally focus on a certain type of geomorphology, such as fluvial or tectonic geomorphology.
Geomorphologists can become certified in a specific type of the science, such as fluvial or quantitative geomorphology. Certification does not guarantee employment, but it may help. Texas A&M University and the University of California, Davis, both offer scientific certification programs, such as "green building and sustainable design," that include geomorphology in the certification.
In most geomorphology graduate programs, students are required to complete a certain number of hours of fieldwork, outside the classroom, in locations that might include the desert, mountains or forest. Fieldwork varies depending on the program and type of geomorphology the student is specializing in, but typical fieldwork consists of numerical modeling, experiments and different chemical analyses.
Intro to Geomorphology
Every prospective geomorphologist must take an introductory course to understand the basics of the field. This course usually includes an analysis of how existing land formations and water bodies on Earth formed and how elements such as gravity, wind, ice, water, waves and humans have aided these formations. Other topics might include studying the physical properties of rock, soil and water, and analyzing glacial landforms and processes.
A main area of the field is tectonic geomorphology. Tectonics refers to plate tectonics, which is the movement of the earth's plates. When studying the tectonic process, geomorphologists gain a better understanding of land formations such as volcanoes, mountains or valleys. Geomorphologists also learn about earthquake fault lines between the plates, and different soils, minerals or land patterns along these faults that may help predict future earthquakes.
To understand the relationship between land formations and flooding, most geomorphologists must be exposed to training in fluvial geomorphology, which is the study of a river's ecology. This is important since factors such as river sediment, river route, mineral makeup of the water and plant life are all fundamental in giving scientists a better understanding of what future effects the river could have on terrain, or what future dangers it may pose.
Geomorphologists learn how to predict floods. Flood forecasting is a required course in many geomorphology programs, and includes training that teaches what indicators to look for when a stream is about to change its course or swell, how high water levels will rise, and what causes water to rise and fall in specific situations. Through this training, geomorphologists learn to make recommendations to municipalities that may need flood solutions.
Quantitative geomorphology, or the study of landforms using analytic and numeric modeling, is another main area of geomorphology. The University of California, Santa Barbara, and the University of Northern Texas are among the schools offering courses in quantitative geomorphology techniques within broader degree programs such as geology or earth sciences.