Physical Geography

SDSU Geographers include specialists in climate, water, and ecosystems. Students in this area study the physical processes operating in the environment, and the human interactions with those physical processes. Techniques include applied Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, modeling, and fieldwork. Careers for students in this field include consulting, government, and academic careers in environmental areas.


student taking measurements

Hydrological Processes and Modeling

We measure and analyze how water moves through a watershed, from rainfall to soil moisture, groundwater and river flow. This enables us to quantify water resources, improve water management and prepare for droughts and floods.

Landscape Ecology

Landscape ecology addresses interactions between landscape pattern (patches, corridors, etc.) and ecological processes (the flow of energy, materials, or organisms, etc.). We are especially interested in the causes and consequences of landscape heterogeneity over varying scales, usually over large extent. Landscape ecology receives substantial contribution from ecology, geography, and several social science disciplines.

brazilian forest canopy

Regional Climate Modeling

Accurate representation of the land surface characteristics, such as topography and vegetation distribution, is essential for obtaining realistic climate projections and establishing appropriate mitigation and adaptation alternatives to climate variability. Regional climate models are excellent tools to study the relationship between climate and land.

Remote Sensing for Watershed Science

Satellite imagery can be used to map crop water use, groundwater volumes, and land cover. We also use GoPros and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to create 3D reconstructions of stream channels. These technologies are being used in San Diego County and in the Imperial and Mexicali valleys to map farmer sensitivity to drought.

Sediment, Erosion, and Water Quality

Sediment and water quality are impacted by human activities including mining, agriculture, and urbanization. We aim to map the processes that impact sediment and water quality in diverse geographic settings, including the US-Mexico border, American Samoa, and San Diego County.

Vegetation Mapping and Monitoring

Biogeography and vegetation ecology (particularly of Mediterranean-type ecosystems) with special emphases upon spatial and temporal patterns of species diversity, community composition, post-disturbance resilience, and habitat preferences of species. Methods of vegetation analysis (vegetation mapping, field sampling techniques, statistical analysis, and remote sensing).

fire in african brush country

Wildfire Processes

Physical and biogeographic processes of wildfire ignition and spread, and postfire vegetation recovery. Fire management and geographic information science and technologies in support of wildfire science and management applications.