A World of Words: Physical Geography - Middle School

Physical geography will be a breeze once you master this list of terms related to Earth's physical features. You'll review climate and weather, landforms and bodies of water, biomes and ecosystems, and the geological structure of the Earth — and that's just the tip of the iceberg!
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Full list of words from this list:

  1. acid rain
    precipitation with toxic gas emissions combined with water
  2. air mass
    a large body of air with uniform characteristics horizontally
  3. antitrade wind
    winds blowing from west to east and lying above the trade winds in the tropics
  4. aquifer
    underground layer of rock or sand that yields groundwater
  5. archipelago
    a group of many islands in a large body of water
  6. arid
    lacking sufficient water or rainfall
  7. arroyo
    a stream or brook
  8. atmosphere
    the mass of air surrounding the Earth
  9. atoll
    an island consisting of a coral reef surrounding a lagoon
  10. badlands
    deeply eroded barren land
  11. barometer
    an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure
  12. barrier reef
    a long coral reef near and parallel to the shore
  13. bay
    an indentation of a shoreline smaller than a gulf
  14. bedrock
    solid unweathered stone beneath surface deposits of soil
  15. berm
    a narrow ledge at the top or bottom of a slope
  16. biomass
    the total amount of living matter in a given unit area
  17. biome
    major ecological community with distinct climate and flora
  18. biosphere
    the regions of the Earth where living organisms exist
  19. bluff
    a high steep bank
  20. butte
    a hill that rises abruptly from the surrounding region
  21. canyon
    a ravine formed by a river in an area with little rainfall
  22. cape
    a sleeveless garment worn over the shoulders
  23. carbon cycle
    the organic circulation of carbon from the atmosphere into organisms and back again
  24. cataract
    a large waterfall; violent rush of water over a precipice
  25. cavern
    a large cave or a large chamber in a cave
  26. channel
    a deep and relatively narrow body of water
  27. cirrus cloud
    a wispy white cloud at a high altitude
  28. clay
    water-soaked soil; soft, wet earth
  29. cliff
    a steep high face of rock
  30. climate
    the weather in some location averaged over a period of time
  31. cold front
    the front of an advancing mass of colder air
  32. condensation
    atmospheric moisture that has changed from a gas
  33. conduction
    the transmission of heat or electricity or sound
  34. continent
    one of the large landmasses of the earth
  35. continental divide
    the watershed of a continent
  36. continental drift
    the gradual movement of very large land masses
  37. continental shelf
    the relatively shallow seabed surrounding a continent
  38. convection
    movement of heat by massive motion within the atmosphere
  39. coral reef
    a reef consisting of coral consolidated into limestone
  40. core
    the central part of the Earth
  41. crater
    a bowl-shaped geological formation at the top of a volcano
  42. crust
    the outer layer of the Earth
  43. cumulus cloud
    a globular cloud
  44. current
    a steady flow of a fluid or gas
  45. cyclone
    an atmospheric system in which air circulates rapidly
  46. delta
    a low area of alluvial deposits where a river divides
  47. desert
    arid land with little or no vegetation
  48. desertification
    a gradual transformation into arid, uninhabitable land
  49. dew point
    the temperature at which the water vapor in the air becomes saturated and condensation begins
  50. divide
    a ridge of land that separates two adjacent river systems
  51. doldrums
    equatorial area with calms and unpredictable light winds
  52. downdraft
    a strong downward air current
  53. drainage basin
    the entire geographical area drained by a river and its tributaries; an area characterized by all runoff being conveyed to the same outlet
  54. dune
    a ridge of sand created by the wind
  55. earthquake
    vibration from underground movement along a fault plane
  56. ecosystem
    organisms interacting with their physical environment
  57. El Nino
    (oceanography) a warm ocean current that flows along the equator from the date line and south off the coast of Ecuador at Christmas time
  58. epicenter
    a point on the Earth's surface directly above an earthquake
  59. equator
    an imaginary line around the Earth forming a great circle
  60. equinox
    when the sun crosses the plane of the earth's equator
  61. erosion
    condition in which the earth's surface is worn away
  62. estuary
    the wide part of a river where it nears the sea
  63. evaporation
    the process of becoming a suspension of particles in the air
  64. eye
    an area that is approximately central within some larger region
  65. fault line
    (geology) line determined by the intersection of a geological fault and the earth's surface
  66. fauna
    all the animal life in a particular region or period
  67. fjord
    a long narrow inlet of the sea between steep cliffs
  68. floodplain
    a low plain adjacent to a river that is formed chiefly of river sediment and is subject to flooding
  69. flood tide
    the occurrence of incoming water
  70. flora
    all the plant life in a particular region or period
  71. fog
    droplets of water vapor suspended in the air near the ground
  72. foliation
    (geology) the arrangement of leaflike layers in a rock
  73. food chain
    community of organisms where each member is eaten by another
  74. forecast
    a prediction about how something will develop
  75. front
    phenomenon at the boundary between two different air masses
  76. geyser
    a spring that discharges hot water and steam
  77. glacier
    a slowly moving mass of ice
  78. global warming
    a rise in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere
  79. gorge
    a deep ravine, usually with a river running through it
  80. greenhouse effect
    warming when solar radiation is trapped by the atmosphere
  81. hail
    precipitation of ice pellets
  82. headland
    a natural elevation
  83. headwater
    the source of a river
  84. hot spring
    a natural spring of water at a temperature of 70 F or above
  85. humidity
    wetness in the atmosphere
  86. humus
    partially decomposed organic matter
  87. hurricane
    a severe tropical cyclone usually with heavy rains and winds
  88. hydrosphere
    the watery layer of the earth's surface
  89. hygrometer
    measuring instrument for measuring the relative humidity of the atmosphere
  90. iceberg
    a large frozen mass floating at sea
  91. icecap
    a mass of ice and snow that permanently covers a large area of land (e.g., the polar regions or a mountain peak)
  92. ice floe
    a flat mass of ice floating at sea
  93. ice pack
    a large expanse of floating ice
  94. ice shelf
    ice that is attached to land but projects out to sea
  95. igneous
    produced by the action of fire or intense heat
  96. insolation
    incident solar radiation
  97. island
    a land mass that is surrounded by water
  98. isthmus
    a narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas
  99. jet stream
    a high-speed high-altitude airstream blowing from west to east near the top of the troposphere; has important effects of the formation of weather fronts
  100. jetty
    protective structure extending from the shore into the water
  101. lagoon
    a body of water cut off from a larger body by a reef
  102. lake
    a body of (usually fresh) water surrounded by land
  103. landslide
    the descent of a large mass of dirt and rock down a slope
  104. latitude
    an imaginary line around the Earth parallel to the equator
  105. lava
    rock that in its molten form issues from volcanos
  106. leach
    permeate or seep into gradually
  107. lightning
    flash of light from an electric discharge in the atmosphere
  108. lithosphere
    the solid part of the Earth
  109. llano
    an extensive grassy and nearly treeless plain
  110. loam
    a rich soil consisting of sand, clay and organic materials
  111. longitude
    the angular distance from the prime meridian at Greenwich
  112. magma
    molten rock in the earth's crust
  113. magnitude
    the property of relative size or extent
  114. mantle
    the layer of the earth between the crust and the core
  115. marsh
    low-lying wet land with grassy vegetation
  116. meridian
    an imaginary great circle on the surface of the earth
  117. mesa
    flat tableland with steep edges
  118. metamorphic
    having undergone transformation by pressure, heat, etc.
  119. metamorphic rock
    rock altered by pressure and heat
  120. meteorologist
    a specialist who studies weather conditions
  121. meteorology
    the earth science dealing with phenomena of the atmosphere
  122. mineral
    a solid inorganic substance occurring in nature
  123. monsoon
    rainy season in southern Asia
  124. mountain
    a land mass that projects well above its surroundings
  125. natural resource
    material in the environment that can be used by people
  126. nimbus cloud
    a dark grey cloud bearing rain
  127. nitrogen cycle
    the circulation of nitrogen
  128. oasis
    a fertile tract in a desert
  129. ocean
    a large body of water that is part of the hydrosphere
  130. outcrop
    the part of a rock formation that appears above the surface
  131. oxbow lake
    a crescent-shaped lake (often temporary) that is formed when a meander of a river is cut off from the main channel
  132. ozone layer
    a layer in the stratosphere (at approximately 20 miles) that contains a concentration of ozone sufficient to block most ultraviolet radiation from the sun
  133. Pangaea
    (plate tectonics) a hypothetical continent including all the landmass of the earth prior to the Triassic period when it split into Laurasia and Gondwanaland
  134. peninsula
    a large mass of land projecting into a body of water
  135. permafrost
    ground that is permanently frozen
  136. photosynthesis
    formation of compounds in plants aided by radiant energy
  137. physical geography
    the study of physical features of the earth's surface
  138. pinnacle
    a lofty peak
  139. plain
    an extensive tract of level, open land
  140. plankton
    aggregate of small organisms that float or drift in water
  141. plateau
    a relatively flat raised area of land
  142. plate tectonics
    the movement or study of the movement of Earth's crust
  143. polar front
    the front of an advancing mass of colder air
  144. prairie
    a treeless grassy plain
  145. precipitation
    the falling to earth of any form of water
  146. prime meridian
    meridian from which east and west are reckoned
  147. radiation
    energy transmitted in the form of rays or waves or particles
  148. rain
    water falling in drops from vapor in the atmosphere
  149. rainforest
    a densely wooded tropical area with heavy precipitation
  150. rain gauge
    gauge consisting of an instrument to measure the quantity of precipitation
  151. reef
    a submerged ridge of rock or coral near the water's surface
  152. reflection
    the phenomenon of a wave being thrown back from a surface
  153. Richter scale
    a logarithmic scale of 1 to 10 formerly used to express the magnitude of an earthquake on the basis of the size of seismograph oscillations
  154. river
    a large natural stream of water (larger than a creek)
  155. runoff
    the occurrence of surplus liquid exceeding capacity
  156. salinity
    the relative proportion of salt in a solution
  157. Santa Ana
    a strong hot dry wind that blows in winter from the deserts of southern California toward the Pacific Coast
  158. savanna
    a flat grassland in tropical or subtropical regions
  159. sea
    a large body of salt water partially enclosed by land
  160. sediment
    matter that has been deposited by some natural process
  161. sedimentary
    formed by or containing the accumulation of deposited matter
  162. sedimentary rock
    rock formed from consolidated clay deposits
  163. seismograph
    an instrument for measuring movements of the ground
  164. silt
    mud or clay or small rocks deposited by a river or lake
  165. sleet
    precipitation consisting of a mixture of rain and snow
  166. snow
    precipitation falling from clouds in the form of ice crystals
  167. sod
    surface layer of ground containing a mat of grass and roots
  168. soil
    material in the top layer of the surface of the earth
  169. solstice
    when the sun is at its greatest distance from the equator
  170. sound
    narrow channel of the sea joining two larger bodies of water
  171. spring
    a natural flow of ground water
  172. stalactite
    a cylinder of calcium carbonate hanging from a cave roof
  173. stalagmite
    a cylinder of calcium carbonate projecting from a cave floor
  174. steppe
    an extensive plain without trees
  175. strait
    a narrow channel joining two larger bodies of water
  176. stratum
    one of several parallel layers of material
  177. stratus cloud
    a large dark low cloud
  178. swamp
    low land that is seasonally flooded
  179. temperature
    the degree of hotness or coldness of a body or environment
  180. terrain
    a piece of ground having specific characteristics
  181. thermometer
    measuring instrument for measuring temperature
  182. thunder
    a booming or crashing noise along the path of lightning
  183. thunderstorm
    a storm resulting from strong rising air currents
  184. tide
    the periodic rise and fall of the sea level
  185. timberline
    boundary marking the upper limit of tree growth
  186. topography
    the configuration of a surface and its features
  187. tornado
    a violently destructive windstorm occurring over land
  188. trade wind
    steady winds blowing from east to west above and below the equator
  189. tributary
    a branch that flows into the main stream
  190. troposphere
    the lowest atmospheric layer; from 4 to 11 miles high
  191. tsunami
    a cataclysm resulting from a destructive sea wave
  192. tundra
    a vast treeless plain where subsoil is permanently frozen
  193. typhoon
    a tropical cyclone in the western Pacific or Indian oceans
  194. updraft
    a strong upward air current
  195. valley
    a long depression in the surface of the land
  196. vegetation
    all the plant life in a particular region or period
  197. volcanic rock
    extrusive igneous rock solidified near or on the surface of the Earth
  198. volcano
    a fissure in the earth's crust through which gases erupt
  199. wadi
    a gully that remains dry except during the rainy season
  200. warm front
    the front of an advancing mass of warmer air
  201. waterfall
    a steep descent of the water of a river
  202. watershed
    a ridge of land that separates two adjacent river systems
  203. water table
    underground surface below which the ground is wholly saturated with water
  204. water vapor
    water in a vaporous form diffused in the atmosphere but below boiling temperature
  205. weather
    atmospheric conditions such as temperature and precipitation
  206. wind
    air moving from high pressure to low pressure
  207. wind vane
    mechanical device attached to an elevated structure
Created on March 4, 2017 (updated August 2, 2017)

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