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Programs / Science / Physical Geography

Program Summary

Physical Geographers study the natural environment as a product of the interaction of the atmosphere, the hydrosphere (water in all its forms), the biosphere (all living things), the lithosphere (the solid earth) and human activity. Physical Geography is the science of the natural environment at all scales, from the smallest grain of sand to the entire planet. In the Physical Geography BSc program, you can choose from a range of courses that cover topics such as climate change, water resources and land degradation. Both fieldwork and laboratory techniques are emphasized.

During your studies in Geography at Carleton, you will develop a combination of skills that will make you highly employable. This program will enable you to analyze problems thoroughly, to use computers effectively, to tackle issues of varying complexity, to work productively in teams and to communicate professionally.

Our professors have extensive expertise in 1) human geography, including urban environments and issues, community engagement and activism, impacts of resource extraction and environmental change on communities, gender issues, globalization, geopolitics, and economic, historical and cultural geography; 2) physical geography, including resource and environmental assessment, soil science, geomorphology, permafrost, biogeochemistry, climatology, hydrology and biogeography; and 3) geomatics, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing and cartography. Many professors also have regional expertise in various places such as the Arctic and Latin America.

Hands-on learning

Our interest in your future has led us to build practical learning experiences into our programs. As a BA (Honours) Geography student, you will gain valuable field experience by participating in the Honours Field Course in third year. Geography Honours students also have opportunities for workplace experiences through our practicum courses in:

■ private industry (e.g., waste management, environmental assessment and monitoring, geomatics companies);

■ government departments, such as the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Environment Canada, National Defence, Foreign Affairs and International Development; and

■ non-governmental organizations (NGOs) related to environmental, social and cultural issues.

Co-op opportunities

In addition to a practicum program, the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies offers co-op opportunities for eligible Honours students. Co-op jobs are paid, full-time positions that give students a chance, over three four-month work terms, to put their learning into practice and gain new skills and contacts. Graduating with co-op work experience can give you an advantage in today’s competitive job market.

Extensive learning and research facilities

You will have access to the latest in teaching laboratories at Carleton, including computer labs for GIS, remote sensing and cartography and labs for physical geography courses. In addition, the Carleton University Library houses extensive resource materials for geographers, including a collection of over 166,000 digital and paper maps.

Ottawa is rich in study resources vital to the geographer, such as Library and Archives Canada, the Canada Centre for Mapping and Earth Observation, Statistics Canada, and other federal government departments. Ottawa’s extensive research and information technology activities also provide exciting opportunities.

Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Physical Geography

Physical Geography is the study of the nature and processes of the Earth’s surface and atmosphere, including climate and climate change, geomorphology and landscape formation, soils, permafrost and natural hazards, as well as their importance to society and society’s impact on these natural systems. You will gain field and laboratory experience, and learn the specialized techniques (including Geomatics) for collection and analysis of environmental data.

The BA (Honours) Geography degree with a Concentration in Physical Geography includes an integrated set of human and physical geography courses as described above. The BSc Physical Geography program focuses on environmental and geographic science and includes certain science course requirements. A BSc in Earth Sciences and Geography with a Concentration in Terrain Science may also be taken.

Honours field camp and research project

As an Honours Geography student, you will gain valuable field experience by participating in the Honours field course in third year. You will also have the opportunity to develop a research project in your area of interest. Fourth-year Honours research courses allow you to work one-on-one with a faculty supervisor, developing an area of independent research. You will graduate with a defined area of expertise, as well as valuable research experience

First-year experience

Carleton introduces you to issues of contemporary science in Seminar in Science (NSCI 1000), a first-year seminar course. You will attend six special lectures given by prominent Canadian researchers, as well as small group seminars led by a professor who acts as both your mentor and teacher.

Through assignments, presentations and discussions, you will develop the analytical and communication skills needed for success in the world of science.

The workplace

As a geographer, you will have a strong social and natural science base that makes a range of career possibilities available to you. Here are some positions that have been secured by our recent graduates:

■ urban recreation planner;

■ geomatics analyst;

■ transportation planner;

■ environmental scientist or consultant;

■ coastal geomorphologist;

■ agriculture researcher;

■ waste management coordinator;

■ resource planner;

■ community services manager; and

■ international development worker.

Graduate studies

Graduates of any of our Honours programs in Geography may also be eligible to go on to graduate studies in a variety of fields, including Physical Geography (MSc), Human Geography (MA), Land Resource Use, Management and Appraisal (MA or MSc) or Geomatics (MA or MSc).

If you are considering an advanced degree, you are encouraged to investigate graduate programs early in order to ensure that your Geography program meets the relevant graduate-level requirements.

Professional programs

Many professional programs, including law and teaching, encourage well-rounded applicants from a variety of backgrounds to apply. Geography provides a strong foundation for such programs, and you are encouraged to pursue interests you may have in these fields after completing an undergraduate degree.

What students are saying about Physical Geography


A highlight of my time at Carleton was my experience working as a research assistant to two of my professors in Gatineau Park. Getting my hands dirty in the field was an awesome way to apply skills and knowledge I gained in class to practical applications of the study of Geography. In addition, the lab component of many classes provided my classmates and me with a hands-on learning approach to better understand topics discussed in lecture. I am confident that the skills and knowledge I have gained at Carleton have provided me with experience that can be transferred to a variety of fields upon graduation.
Samantha Mahon, (BSc) Geography student