A landscape is part of the Earths surface that can be viewed at one time from one place. It consists of the geographic features that mark, or are characteristic of, a particular area.

The term comes from the Dutch word landschap, the name given to paintings of the countryside. Geographers have borrowed the word from artists. Although landscape paintings have existed since ancient Roman times (landscape frescoes are present in the ruins of Pompeii), they were reborn during the Renaissance in Northern Europe. Painters ignored people or scenes in landscape art, and made the land itself the subject of paintings. Famous Dutch landscape painters include Jacob van Ruisdael and Vincent van Gogh.

An artist paints a landscape; a geographer studies it. Some geographers, such as Otto Schluter, actually define geography as landscape science. Schluter was the first scientist to write specifically of natural landscapes and cultural landscapes.

A natural landscape is made up of a collection of landforms, such as mountains, hills, plains, and plateaus. Lakes, streams, soils (such as sand or clay), and natural vegetation are other features of natural landscapes. A desert landscape, for instance, usually indicates sandy soil and few deciduous trees. Even desert landscapes can vary: The hilly sand dunes of the Sahara Desert landscape are very different from the cactus-dotted landscape of the Mojave Desert of the American Southwest, for instance.

Cultural Landscape

A landscape that people have modified is called a cultural landscape. People and the plants they grow, the animals they care for, and the structures they build make up cultural landscapes. Such landscapes can vary greatly. They can be as different as a vast cattle ranch in Argentina or the urban landscape of Tokyo, Japan.

Since 1992, the United Nations has recognized significant interactions between people and the natural landscape as official cultural landscapes. The international organization protects these sites from destruction, and identifies them as tourist destinations.

The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO (the United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization) defines a cultural landscape in three ways.

The first is a clearly defined landscape designed and created intentionally by man. The Archaeological Landscape of the First Coffee Plantations in the South-East of Cuba, near Santiago, Cuba, is an example of this type of cultural landscape.

The second type of cultural landscape is an organically evolved landscape. An organically evolved landscape is one where the spiritual, economic, and cultural significance of an area developed along with its physical characteristics. The Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape, along the banks of the Orkhon River in central Mongolia, is an example of an organically evolved landscape. The Orkhon Valley has been used by Mongolian nomads since the 8th century as pastureland for their horses and other animals. Mongolian herders still use the rich river valley for pastureland today.

The last type of cultural landscape is an associative cultural landscape. An associative landscape is much like an organically evolved landscape, except physical evidence of historical human use of the site may be missing. Its significance is an association with spiritual, economic, or cultural features of a people. Tongariro National Park in New Zealand is an associative cultural landscape for the Maori people. The mountains in the park symbolize the link between the Maori and the physical environment.

People and the Natural Landscape

The growth of technology has increased our ability to change a natural landscape. An example of human impact on landscape can be seen along the coastline of the Netherlands. Water from the North Sea was pumped out of certain areas, uncovering the fertile soil below. Dikes and dams were built to keep water from these areas, now used for farming and other purposes.

Dams can change a natural landscape by flooding it. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River, in Yichang, China, is the worlds largest electric power plant. The Three Gorges Dam project has displaced more than 1.2 million people and permanently altered the flow of the Yangtze River, changing both the physical and cultural landscape of the region.

Many human activities increase the rate at which natural processes, such as weathering and erosion, shape the landscape. The cutting of forests exposes more soil to wind and water erosion. Pollution such as acid rain often speeds up the weathering, or breakdown, of the Earths rocky surface.

By studying natural and cultural landscapes, geographers learn how peoples activities affect the land. Their studies may suggest ways that will help us protect the delicate balance of Earths ecosystems.

landscape
The natural landscape of the Pacific Ocean meets the man-made landscape of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Landscape Architecture
Landscape architecture is the study of planning and altering features of a natural landscape. This often takes the form of public parks and gardens. Central Park, the enormous public park in New York City, is often cited as an ideal example of urban landscape architecture. Central Park was designed by American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.

acid rain
Noun

precipitation with high levels of nitric and sulfuric acids. Acid rain can be manmade or occur naturally.

cactus
Noun

type of plant native to dry regions.

cattle
Noun

cows and oxen.

clay
Noun

type of sedimentary rock that is able to be shaped when wet.

cultural landscape
Noun

human imprint on the physical environment.

dam
Noun

structure built across a river or other waterway to control the flow of water.

deciduous
Adjective

type of plant that sheds its leaves once a year.

Noun

area of land that receives no more than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of precipitation a year.

Noun

a barrier, usually a natural or artificial wall used to regulate water levels.

displace
Verb

to remove or force to evacuate.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

Noun

act in which earth is worn away, often by water, wind, or ice.

farming
Noun

the art, science, and business of cultivating the land for growing crops.

fertile
Adjective

able to produce crops or sustain agriculture.

Noun

overflow of a body of water onto land.

fresco
Noun

art or design painted directly into the wet plaster of a wall or other surface.

geographer
Noun

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

Noun

land that rises above its surroundings and has a rounded summit, usually less than 300 meters (1,000 feet).

intentional
Adjective

deliberate or on-purpose.

Noun

body of water surrounded by land.

Noun

specific natural feature on the Earth's surface.

Noun

the geographic features of a region.

landscape painting
Noun

painting depicting geographic features able to be viewed at one time from one place.

Mojave Desert
Noun

arid landscape in the U.S. states of California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

mountain
Noun

landmass that forms as tectonic plates interact with each other.

natural landscape
Noun

geographic features not created by humans that are characteristic of an area.

nomad
Noun

person who moves from place to place, without a fixed home.

Otto Schluter
Noun

(1872-1959) German geographer.

pasture
Noun

type of agricultural land used for grazing livestock.

Noun

flat, smooth area at a low elevation.

Noun

large region that is higher than the surrounding area and relatively flat.

Noun

introduction of harmful materials into the environment.

Pompeii
Noun

city in southwest Italy that was buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.

power plant
Noun

industrial facility for the generation of electric energy.

Renaissance
Noun

period of great development in science, art, and economy in Western Europe from the 14th to the 17th centuries.

ruin
Noun

remains of a destroyed building or set of buildings.

Sahara Desert
Noun

world's largest desert, in north Africa.

sand
Noun

small, loose grains of disintegrated rocks.

soil
Noun

top layer of the Earth's surface where plants can grow.

stream
Noun

body of flowing fluid.

symbolize
Verb

to represent an object, idea, organization, or geographical region.

technology
Noun

the science of using tools and complex machines to make human life easier or more profitable.

Three Gorges Dam
Noun

electrical power plant along the Yangtze River in China.

Noun

the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

United Nations
Noun

international organization that works for peace, security and cooperation.

urban landscape
Noun

physical features of a city.

vegetation
Noun

all the plant life of a specific place.

Vincent van Gogh
Noun

(1853-1890) Dutch painter.

Noun

the breaking down or dissolving of the Earth's surface rocks and minerals.