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Physical Geography: Making Sense of Planet Earth

Physical Geography: Making Sense of Planet Earth encompasses earth systems, from the smallest land feature to whole continents ... to how weather affects the planet ... to how humans interact with natural resources and their physical landscape. Presented by acclaimed geographer Alec Murphy this incredible series shot in HD reviews significant discoveries, individuals, and theories that have led to physical geography becoming one of the leading sciences of the 21st century.
  • Title ID 76-PG
  • Science, Core Science, Earth Science, Geology, Social Studies, Geography
  • 8 Programs
  • 10 Supplemental Files
  • 10th Grade through Post Secondary
  • Published by Ambrose Video Publishing Inc./Centre Communications
Included Programs
Supplemental Files

Included Programs

Inventing the Tools of GeographyRunning time is 29 minutes

In program one, Alec Murphy presents an historical narrative of the principles that form the foundation of geography, including the three laws of geology, the importance of scale and the origins of the two great branches of geography: physical and human.

Chapter List
Chapter 1: Modern Geographical Thinking
Geographical thinking brings an analytical perspective to bear on the world - treating the 7 billion people living on the planet as part of an interconnected web of earth processes as well as landforms and developing human cultures that coalesce in distinct ways.
Chapter 2: The Three Laws of Geology
The three laws of geology created by Danish naturalist Nicolas Steno are the Law of Super Imposition, the Principal of Original Horizonality, and the Principle of Discontinuity.
Chapter 3: Creation of Planet Earth
Charles Lyell and his book Principles of Geology and Louis Agassiz and his book, The Discovery of the Great Ice Age, which talked about glaciers and glaciation, overturned the 19th century's two great theories on the formation of the Earth, the Neptunist Theory and the Plutonist Theory, and led to the theory of plate tectonics proposed by Alfred Wegener in 1912 and first conceived by, Abraham Ortelius in the 16th century.
Chapter 4: The Rise of Human Geography
The impact of human geography began after the Ice Age with agriculture, and the understanding of earth systems and the importance of geography began with geology and geologic forces that formed the planet's surface , such as the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

Portraying the EarthRunning time is 29 minutes

In program two, Alec Murphy focuses on the history of portraying the Earth and the earliest maps of ancient Greece, the 21st century computer-based GIS, Geographical Information Systems, as well as a visit to the U.S. Geological Survey, the institution that has served as America's center for mapmaking for the past 150 years.

Chapter List
Chapter 1: A History of Cartography
Map makers, such as Gerhardt Mercator, who created the Mercator Projection, have created the discipline of cartography, mapmaking, which employs latitude and longitude, which uses a Prime Meridian as its starting point,
Chapter 2: Map Making Tools
U.S. Geological Survey, USGS, was founded in 1879 and used tools such as the alidade, plane table and scales for cartography or mapmaking, which selected map worthy features to create maps.
Chapter 3: Specialty Maps
Cartography or mapmaking can be used to create specialty maps such as topographic maps which can map out landforms.
Chapter 4: Geographical Information Systems
Cartography, mapmaking, in the in the last 50 years has improved because of GIS - Geographical Information Systems- and LIDAR - Light Detection And Ranging.
Chapter 5: Maps in the 21st Century
In the 21st century cartography, or mapmaking, has improved with the addition of GPS, Global Positioning Systems, Google Maps, Map Quest Google, and U.S. Geological Survey's three dimensional contour maps.

LandformsRunning time is 29 minutes

In program three, Alec Murphy categorizes and defines the major landforms found on the planet's continents, including mountain ranges, river valleys, plateaus, basins, mesa, buttes and narrow canyons.

Chapter List
Chapter 1: Geomorphology
From observations of topographic features such as mountain ranges came the geomorphology, the scientific study of landforms and the processes that shape them.
Chapter 2: Scale and Landforms
Defining Earth's landforms requires geographers to specify a scale or perspective
Chapter 3: Mountains and Hills
Mountains, such as the Appalachian Mountains, and hills are landforms that have been important to human cultures such as the Andes Mountains were to the Incas and can be seen at Machu Piccu, or to the Romans and can be seen in Rome at the Capitoline Hill.
Chapter 4: Buttes and Mesas
The landforms, buttes and mesas can be seen at Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
Chapter 5: Plains
The landform a plain is the common geomorphic term for flatland and it is also known by terms like prairie and grassland as can be seen in the Great Plains of North America; and when plains get high enough they are called plateaus, such as the Columbia Plateau.
Chapter 6: Basins, Valleys and Canyons
Landforms that are sunken or depressed below the surrounding area are known as basins, canyons and valleys, of which there are U-shaped and V-shaped valleys.
Chapter 7: Coastlines
Landforms such as a coastlines and coastal zones are usually the result of continental plates and oceanic plates colliding
Chapter 8: Landforms and People
Human habitation can have an affect on the physical terrain or landforms, such as rivers, through agriculture, roads and cities.

The Ever Changing PlanetRunning time is 29 minutes

In program four, Alec Murphy walks viewers through the forces shaping and destroying the planet's many landforms, including water erosion, wind erosion, glaciers, continental drift, plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanic activity.

Chapter List
Chapter 1: The Ever Changing Earth Surface
The grandeur of Earth's changing landscapes can be seen in the creation of the big island of Hawaii, the hill where the Greek Acropolis stands, the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Canyon.
Chapter 2: Continental Drift
Alfred Wegener proposed that the Earth's crust was made up of continental and oceanic plates and that the continents were once all joined in a super continent, Pangaea, but Continental Drift separated them and through tectonic forces such as subduction mountain ranges like the Cascade Mountain Range with its volcanoes were formed.
Chapter 3: Hot Spots
The hotspot in Yellowstone National Park formed an immense caldera that became the Yellowstone plateau.
Chapter 4: Water Erosion
Water erosion created the Grand Canyon of the desert Southwest and the, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.
Chapter 5: Wind Erosion
Wind erosion created the Algodones Sand Dunes in California.
Chapter 6: Glaciers
Glaciers and glaciation created Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range; and in addition also create, outwash plains, moraines - recessional and terminal moraines and kames.

Layering the PlanetRunning time is 29 minutes

In program five, Alec Murphy shows how Earth's many spheres - the inner core, the crust or lithosphere, a soil layer, known as the pedosphere, the hydrosphere, the atmosphere and biosphere - are all interconnected in one dynamic system.

Chapter List
Chapter 1: The Geographical Spheres
The badlands of the John Day Fossil Beds, reveal the effects of volcanic eruptions during the Cenozoic Era ,on all the major spheres studied by physical geographers - the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, pedosphere and hydrosphere.
Chapter 2: Earth's Physical Structure
The Earth's surface is made up of continental and oceanic plates, which interact in plate tectonics, while the Earth itself is made up of three main shells, crust, mantle and core.
Chapter 3: The Lithosphere
The lithosphere is made up of igneous rock, magma, sedimentary rock and metamorphic rock and it interacts with the pedosphere.
Chapter 4: The Pedosphere
The pedosphere, or soil, has many kinds of soils such as spodosols, mollisols and aridisols, and it is important because it interacts with the lithosphere, biosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere.
Chapter 5: The Hydrosphere
The hydrosphere, through the hydrological cycle is important because of how it affects climates and creates forces, such as water and glaciers, that affect landforms.
Chapter 6: The Atmosphere
The atmosphere has water and gases in it, is powered by solar energy and uses evaporation and, precipitation to affect the biosphere.
Chapter 7: Connecting the Five Major Spheres
The biosphere is all life - vegetation, animals and microbial life on the planet; and thanks to the efforts of Nikolai Vavilov we can see how the Earth has different biomes - the tundra, coniferous forest, temperate deciduous forest, grasslands, deserts, Mediterranean shrub or chaparral, and tropical.
Chapter 8: Landforms and People
Rock, soil, water, air, and life correspond to the lithosphere, pedosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere and biosphere respectively, and are studied through biogeography, geography and Earth systems sciences by scientists such as geomorphologists and pedologists.

Geographical RegionsRunning time is 29 minutes

Regions are one of the most important tools used in geographical thinking, and in program six, Alec Murphy shows how the planet is divided into physiographic or geomorphic regions, each with internal dynamic processes and then defines the three types of regions: formal, functional, and colloquial.

Chapter List
Chapter 1: Geomorphic Regions
The Great Basin, a part of the Basin and Range, is a desert whose topography and biogeographic characteristics - desert flora and desert faun -classify it as a region, a geomorphic region, or a physiographic province in order to say the processes within that region are similar, and it's a useful way of describing landscape processes that produce a certain set of landforms.
Chapter 2: Geomorphic Regions - Colorado Plateau
A plateau, such as the Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners Area, which was formed by the Farallon Plate meeting the North American Plate as well as by water and rivers like the Colorado River creating canyons and badlands, is an example of a geomorphic or physiographic region.
Chapter 3: Geomorphic Regions - Atlantic Coastal Plain
East of the Appalachian Mountains is the Atlantic Coastal Plain, a physiographic region with a plain and a coastline and formed with podzolic and ultisolic soils.
Chapter 4: Physiographic Process
The geomorphic, or physiographic, regions - the Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau and the Atlantic Coastal Plains- are broad-scale subdivisions based on terrain texture, rock type, and geologic structure and history, a perspective pioneered by American geographer Nevin Fenneman.
Chapter 5: Regions and Scale
Scale can help reveal what is important about regions, for example, rivers and their watersheds often cut across multiple physiographic regions, as when the Colorado River originates in the Rocky Mountain provinces, cuts across the Colorado Plateau, enters the Great Basin and exits into the Gulf of California.
Chapter 6: The Three Types of Regions
The three types of regions are vernacular regions--regions of perceptual significance such as the West ... Functional regions--regions that function as a unit such as the San Francisco Bay metropolitan area ... And formal regions--regions that are characterized by the presence of a particular phenomenon.

Physical Geographic Influences on the Development of Human SocietiesRunning time is 29 minutes

In program seven, Alex Murphy, using historical examples and present-day case histories, guides viewers through both sides of the argument known as environmental determinism as he program seeks answers to the one of the great debates in geography: 'How much does place or physical geography determine human development - cultural and economic?'

Chapter List
Chapter 1: Environmental Determinism
Environmental determinism is the concept that environments and resources determined technology and human culture or human civilization.
Chapter 2: Importance of Rivers in Developing Civilizations
Many ancient civilizations were built along rivers such as the Fertile Crescent along the Tigris and Euphrates, the Indus Valley in India, or the Mississippi River's Cahokian Mississippian Culture, whose pyramids were discovered by the Spanish Conquistador, Hernando DeSoto.
Chapter 3: Challenges to Environmental Determinism
The mistaken importance of environmental determinism, or how geographical factors determine human culture and civilization, can be shown through studying the Maya and the Mayan culture in the rainforest of the Yucatan.
Chapter 4: Importance of Soils in Developing Civilizations
The impact of environmental determinism on agriculture in America can be demonstrated first, through the land surrounding George Washington National monument along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, where 200 years ago Humphrey Davies's book - Elements of Agricultural Chemistry - brought a new era to farming with the idea of fertilizing, and second, in the Great Plains, where irrigation was an important factor.
Chapter 5: Importance of Natural Resources in Developing Civilizations
How natural resources can affect human's interaction with the land can be seen in the search for gold in the Plains Indians sacred Black hills of South Dakota.
Chapter 6: Co-Development of Peoples and Place
The physical environment places constraints on what is possible, even through technology, in human impacts on landforms, and the physical landscape, in addition, physical processes such as earthquakes are destructive and can cost much time, money and even human lives.

Human Impacts on the Natural EnvironmentRunning time is 29 minutes

In program eight, Alex Murphy examines the Paleolithic Age, the Neolithic Age, Ancient Civilizations and the Modern Age to show how human beings have become a geographical force transforming the landscape and what the future holds for the planet and the 7 billion people living on its surface.

Chapter List
Chapter 1: Changing the Physical Landscape
This process of humans transforming the physical landscape, the physical geography of the planet, is not a new thing and includes building dams and using bulldozers to move great quantities of earth.
Chapter 2: Changing the Physical Landscape - Paleolithic Age
At the end of the Ice Age, in what is called the Paleolithic Age, humans gathered in groups large enough to alter the landscape, for example by improved hunting of animals with better spearheads, created in flint quarries.
Chapter 3: Changing the Physical Landscape - Neolithic Age
During the Paleolithic age, Ancient Britons settled Britain, then during the Neolithic or New Stone Age, they developed a better stone tool technology, began clearing forests and began building megaliths like Stonehenge, thereby altering the landscape.
Chapter 4: Changing the Physical Landscape - Ancient Civilizations
Ancient civilizations, such as the Inca Civilization in the Andes Mountains of South America, transformed the physical landscape, or natural landscape, through agriculture and domesticated animals.
Chapter 5: Changing the Physical Landscape - Modern Age
Changes to the physical landscape during the Modern Age can be seen in the Hoover and Glen Canyon dams on the Colorado River and the creation of, Las Vegas and the Imperial Valley and the effects on the Grand Canyon, as well as in Illinois with the coal mining industry.
Chapter 6: Changing the Physical Landscape - The Future
In the future, or the Anthropocene Age, the physical landscape is not just a blank stage where the human drama will play out, such as with genetically modified foods, but humans will need to not only the individual components of the environment - the geological, biological, atmospheric and human features but the places and patterns created by the interaction of these features.

Supplemental Files

Educator's Guide For Physical Geography: Making Sense of Planet Earth
A guide for college teachers for Physical Geography: Making Sense of Planet Earth
MARC Records for PG
MARC records for the series Physical Geography: Making Sense of Planet Earth
Transcription for Inventing the Tools of Geography
Transcription for Portraying the Earth
Transcription for Landforms
Transcription for The Ever Changing Planet
Transcription for Layering the Planet
Transcription for Geographical Regions
Transcription for Physical Geographic Influences on the Development of Human Societies
Transcription for Human Impacts on the Natural Environment


"This eight-title, four-disc series, hosted by Alexander B. Murphy, "explores the dramatic discoveries of the forces shaping planet Earth" and explains the role of physical geography in the twenty-first century and beyond. The sampled first title, Inventing the Tools of Geography, introduces the three laws of geography, discusses the earth's formation, and talks about advances in technology, including satellite maps and guidance systems...the presented information is detailed, informative, accurate, and solidly paced. Color resolution and sound balance are high...Recommended for young adult readers."