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Keywords:

  • physical geography;
  • review subdivisions;
  • restructuring

The tripartite division of physical geography into geomorphology, climatology and biogeography is still often quoted, but developments in the last two decades have resulted in restructuring of the discipline. Significant publications by physical geographers now occur dominantly in multidisciplinary rather than in core geography journals. Analysis of the contents of ten journals and of the submissions to the 1996 UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) demonstrate the current pre-eminence of two sub-disciplines: geomorphology with hydrology, and Quaternary environmental change. Complementing research in the sub-disciplines, six trends towards a more integrated physical geography are identified as indicators of restructuring that has already occurred. Three futures are suggested for physical geography. The first, the status quo, is thought to be unlikely. The second, the disappearance of physical geography into other disciplinary areas would leave holistic investigations to other disciplines and so is undesirable. Thus, the third alternative, a renaissance of a more integrated physical geography, provides the most likely future. It is supported by existing integrative trends, provides a natural sequel to reductionist specialization, reflects the strong identity for the geographical approach to the earth and environmental sciences and the spatio-analytical approach integrating deductive and inductive studies, and it focuses on human–environmental interactions that could have implications for geography as a whole.