• Distribution refers to the way something is spread out or arranged over a geographic area. The concept of distribution can be applied to nearly everything on Earth, from animal and plant species, to disease infections, weather patterns, and man-made structures.

    Many of the things geographers study are found in some places, but not in the others. This means these patterns occur in certain distributions over the Earth's surface. Geographers look for and try to explain any patterns that may occur. "Distribution" refers to the way something is spread out or arranged over an area. Recognizing distributions on a map is a starting point for many geographic studies. Geographers look for and try to explain any patterns that may occur.

    Some distributions can be seen visually. The number of barns in a farming community can be seen from an airplane, for example.

    Visual information is not always accurate or available, however. Areas may be too big to see, and some areas are not visible at all. These patterns of distribution need to be put on a map. World population is a good example of information that has to be mapped. Geographers can’t count the number of people in an area from the air. They rely on many types of information, such as census data, to determine the distribution of people in a certain area.

    To understand distribution patterns, it is important to understand other factors, such as climate, landforms, and vegetation. For example, the human population distribution shows very few people living in Asia’s arid Gobi Desert. The desert offers few resources important for survival.

    Conflict and economy can also influence distribution patterns. Thousands of Iraqi citizens left their country after the Iraq War began in 2003. Population distribution shows many Iraqis now living in Syria and Jordan.

    The poor economy in rural areas of China have led millions of people to seek employment in huge urban areas such as Beijing and Shanghai. Working in factories and the service industry (hotels, restaurants) is often more profitable than farming. The distribution of rural and urban populations in China has become much more dramatic as a result.

    Distribution is the way something is spread out over an area—it does not tell geographers why or how it is spread out.

    One topic doctors and biologists study is distribution of the disease malaria. Malaria is found mainly in parts of the world that are tropical and humid. Malaria is common in these areas because the mosquitoes that carry and transmit the disease thrive in hot, humid climates. The distribution of human malarial infections shows high concentrations in tropical regions, and low concentrations in non-tropical regions.

    Kudzu is "the vine that ate the South."

    Distribution and the Economy
    Distribution is an important part of economics, as well as geography. In the economic sense, distribution is the process where the producer of a good or service makes it available to consumers. A farmer may grow a crop, and then distribute it to stores or supermarkets.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    area Noun

    a geographic region.

    Encyclopedic Entry: area
    arid Adjective


    biologist Noun

    scientist who studies living organisms.

    census Noun

    program of a nation, state, or other region that counts the population and usually gives its characteristics, such as age and gender.

    Encyclopedic Entry: census
    Census Bureau Noun

    government organization responsible for demographic information about the U.S. population, as well as the analyzing of that data.

    citizen Noun

    member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

    climate Noun

    all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: climate
    concentration Noun

    measure of the amount of a substance or grouping in a specific place.

    concept Noun


    conflict Noun

    a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

    data Plural Noun

    (singular: datum) information collected during a scientific study.

    disease Noun

    harmful condition of a body part or organ.

    distribution Noun

    the way something is spread out over an area.

    Encyclopedic Entry: distribution
    doctor Noun

    person who provides medical care to people or animals.

    economy Noun

    system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.

    geographer Noun

    person who studies places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    humidity Noun

    amount of water vapor in the air.

    Encyclopedic Entry: humidity
    Iraq War Noun

    (2003-present) conflict between Coalition Forces and Iraqi insurgents.

    landform Noun

    specific natural feature on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: landform
    malaria Noun

    infectious disease caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes.

    mosquito Noun

    insect capable of piercing the skin and sucking the blood of animals.

    pattern Noun

    arrangement of people, places, or things across a specific space.

    population Noun

    total number of people or organisms in a particular area.

    profitable Adjective

    able to make money.

    service industry Noun

    business that provides assistance to a customer. Also called tertiary economic activity.

    space Noun

    geographic area that can be specific, like a parking space, or infinite, like outer space.

    thrive Verb

    to develop and be successful.

    transmit Verb

    to pass along information or communicate.

    tropical Adjective

    existing in the tropics, the latitudes between the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.

    urban area Noun

    developed, densely populated area where most inhabitants have nonagricultural jobs.

    Encyclopedic Entry: urban area
    vegetation Noun

    all the plant life of a specific place.

    weather pattern Noun

    repeating or predictable changes in the Earth's atmosphere, such as winds, precipitation, and temperatures.