Geographic Landscape

Landscape, Geographic


a basic territorial category of the earth’s mantle; one of the fundamental concepts of geography, and the object of study in landscape science.

In geography, throughout the 19th century, the term “landscape” referred chiefly to the appearance of an area or to its relief (as in an “eroded” or a “hilly” landscape). The first attempts to give scientific definitions of the term were made by Russian geographers in the early 20th century—in particular, by L. S. Berg (1913), who saw in it a harmonious combination of natural components (relief, climate, soils, vegetation), outlined by natural boundaries. He looked upon it as a “geographic unit,” the fundamental object of geographic investigation.

In the foreign geographic literature, the term “geographic landscape” became especially widespread in the 1920’s and 1930’s, although it was used in different senses—primarily in relation to the aggregate external features of the earth’s surface, including the various manifestations of human activity (cultivated fields, population centers, roads, and the like). Only a few geographers (primarily Germans, such as S. Passarge and, later, C. Troll) attempted to define the term as a kind of natural unit.

In present-day Soviet geography, “geographic landscape” refers to a natural system. The development of landscape theory, mostly through the elaboration of Berg’s ideas, has led to the formulation of a notion (often called the regional concept) that the geographic landscape is the basic step in a system of geographic complexes and an integral territorial unit with strictly limited size and content. According to this concept, which was developed by L. G. Ramenskii, A. A. Grigor’ev, and S. V. Kalesnik in the 1930’s and 1940’s and then substantiated in detail by N. A. Solntsev and V. B. Sochava, a geographical landscape is a concrete territory, homogeneous in origin and history of development; possessing a single geological foundation and relief type; having a common climate, combination of hydrothermal conditions, soils, and biocenoses; and exhibiting a regular set of morphological parts (facies and boundaries).

Some geographers (for example, A. G. Isachenko) consider the fundamental criterion of a geographic landscape to be its homogeneity and indivisibility, both zonally and azonally. Each geographic landscape, in turn, is a constituent part of more complex taxonomic units of physicogeographical regionalization (physicogeographical zones, countries, regions, and provinces). Examples of geographic landscapes in this sense are the Izhora Upland (Leningrad Oblast), the Bel’tsy Steppe (Moldavia), and the Upper Teberda landscape (Greater Caucasus).

Some investigators (D. L. Armand, lu. K. Efremov, and F. N. Mil’kov) treat geographic landscape as a general concept not limited by a taxonomic framework—that is, as a synonym for “natural territorial complex.” In this sense, the steppe zone, the Eastern European (Russian) plain, and marshy massif may be called geographic landscapes. Some geographers (for example, N. A. Gvozdetskii) also give the concept a typological meaning, including in a single landscape a number of areas. These areas may be territorially disconnected; however, they resemble one another in their basic natural features (steppe landscape, marshy landscape). Although certain geographic landscapes are identified in the world ocean as well as on dry land, the study of underwater landscapes is still only beginning.

A geographic landscape is a complex structure defined by (1) the interaction of its constituent parts (geological foundation, air masses, vegetation) and (2) its morphological units (natural territorial complexes of lower rank), which form interlinked series within the given landscape. The relationships between the components of a landscape and its morphological parts are expressed in the exchange of matter and energy. The matter cycle, the energy cycle, and the rhythmic (daily, seasonal, perennial) changes in the structure of the geographic landscape are basic features of the landscape’s dynamics, which encompasses all of its multifarious processes (from the simple mechanical movements of matter under the influence of gravity to the highly complex transformations of the matter’s structure over time). Irreversible changes in geographic landscapes occur as a result both of external factors (changes in solar activity and total atmospheric circulation, tectonic movements, the onset of continental glaciers, marine trangressions) and of internal causes—that is, the development of the geographic landscape itself that results from the contradictory interaction of its components (for example, vegetative overgrowth in bodies of water; progressive marsh development or erosion, or forest intrusion onto steppes, associated with the degradation of chernozems). Human economic activity has to some extent changed most of the geographic landscapes on earth, although the chief natural features of their development remain intact.

The study of geographic landscapes is essential to working out scientific principles for the effective use of natural conditions and resources and to improving, transforming, and protecting nature.


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