Geographical feature

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A feature, in the context of geography and geographic information science, is a phenomenon that exists at a location in the space and scale of relevance to geography; that is, at or near the surface of the Earth, at a moderate to global scale. Almost all geographic information, such as that represented in maps, geographic information systems, remote sensing imagery, statistics, and other forms of geographic discourse, consists of descriptions of geographic features, including their inherent nature, their spatial form and location, and their characteristics or properties.


The term "feature" is meant to be broad and inclusive, including both natural and human-constructed phenomena. It is metaphysically neutral, including both phenomena that exist physically (e.g. a building) and those that are conceptual or social creations (e.g. a county). In an ontological sense, the term is generally restricted to endurants, thus not including spatial processes and events.

In geographic information science, the terms feature, phenomenon, object, and entity are generally used as roughly synonymous. In the 1992 Spatial Data Transfer Standard (SDTS), one of the first public standard models of geographic information, an attempt was made to formally distinguish them: an entity as the real-world phenomenon, an object as a representation thereof (e.g. on paper or digital), and a feature as the combination of both entity and representation objects.[1] Although this distinction is often cited in textbooks, it has not gained lasting nor widespread usage. In the ISO 19101 Geographic Information Reference Model[2] and Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Simple Features Specification,[3] international standards that form the basis for most modern geospatial technologies, a feature is defined as "an abstraction of a real-world phenomena," essentially the object in SDTS.

Despite these attempts at formalization, the broadly interchangeable use of these English terms has persisted. That said, Phenomenon is likely the most broad, comfortably including geographic masses, processes, and events that would be difficult to call "objects" or "entities."[4]

Natural geographical features[edit]


There are two different terms to describe habitats: ecosystem and biome. An ecosystem is a community of organisms.[5] In contrast, biomes occupy large areas of the globe and often encompass many different kinds of geographical features, including mountain ranges.[6]

Biotic diversity within an ecosystem is the variability among living organisms from all sources, including inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems.[7] Living organisms are continually engaged in a set of relationships with every other element constituting the environment in which they exist, and ecosystem describes any situation where there is relationship between organisms and their environment.

Biomes represent large areas of ecologically similar communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms.[8] Biomes are defined based on factors such as plant structures (such as trees, shrubs, and grasses), leaf types (such as broadleaf and needleleaf), plant spacing (forest, woodland, savanna), and climate. Unlike biogeographic realms, biomes are not defined by genetic, taxonomic, or historical similarities. Biomes are often identified with particular patterns of ecological succession and climax vegetation.


A landform comprises a geomorphological unit and is largely defined by its surface form and location in the landscape, as part of the terrain, and as such is typically an element of topography. Landforms are categorized by features such as elevation, slope, orientation, stratification, rock exposure, and soil type. They include berms, mounds, hills, cliffs, valleys, rivers, and numerous other elements. Oceans and continents are the highest-order landforms.

A body of water is any significant accumulation of water, usually covering the Earth. The term "body of water" most often refers to oceans, seas, and lakes, but it may also include smaller pools of water such as ponds, creeks or wetlands. Rivers, streams, canals, and other geographical features where water moves from one place to another are not always considered bodies of water, but they are included as geographical formations featuring water.

Artificial geographical features[edit]


A settlement is a permanent or temporary community in which people live. Settlements range in components from a small number of dwellings grouped together to the largest of cities with surrounding urbanized areas. Other landscape features such as roads, enclosures, field systems, boundary banks and ditches, ponds, parks and woods, mills, manor houses, moats, and churches may be considered part of a settlement.[9]

Engineered constructs[edit]

Engineered geographic features include highways, bridges, airports, railroads, buildings, dams, and reservoirs, and are part of the anthroposphere because they are man-made geographic features.

Cartographic features[edit]

Cartographic features are types of abstract geographical features, which appear on maps but not on the planet itself, even though they are located on the planet. For example, latitudes, longitudes, the Equator, and the Prime Meridian are shown on maps of the Earth, but it do not physically exist. It is a theoretical line used for reference, navigation, and measurement.

In geographic information standardization[edit]

In the ISO/TC 211 standards on geographic information, there are the following definitions:

  • a feature is defined as an "abstraction of real world phenomena";[10]
  • a geographic feature is a "representation of real world phenomenon associated with a location relative to the Earth";[11]
  • a simple feature is a "feature restricted to 2D geometry with linear interpolation between vertices, having both spatial and non spatial attributes";[12]
  • a complex feature is a "feature composed of other features".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fegeas, Robin G.; Cascio, Janette L.; Lazar, Robert A. (1992). "An Overview of FIPS 173, The Spatial Data Transfer Standard". Cartography and Geographic Information Systems. 19 (5): 278–293. doi:10.1559/152304092783762209.
  2. ^ International Standards Organization. "ISO 19101-1:2014, Geographic Information-Reference Model-Part 1: Fundamentals". ISO Standards.
  3. ^ Open Geospatial Consortium. "Simple Feature Access - Part 1: Common Architecture". OGC Standards.
  4. ^ Plewe, Brandon (2019). "A Case for Geographic Masses". Leibniz International Proceedings in Informatics. 14th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory. doi:10.4230/LIPIcs.COSIT.2019.14.
  5. ^ Odum, Eugene P.; Odum, Howard T. (1971). Fundamentals of Ecology (3rd ed.). Saunders.
  6. ^ Botkin, Daniel B.; Keller, Edward A. (1995). Environmental Science: Earth as a Living Planet. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Canada.
  7. ^ "Convention Text — Article 2. Use of Terms". Convention on Biological Diversity. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  8. ^ Basak, Anindita (2009). Environmental Studies. Dorling Kindersley. p. 288. ISBN 978-81-317-2118-6. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  9. ^ "MSRG Policy Statement". Medieval Settlement Research Group. 2014-05-11. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
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  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ [3]
  13. ^ [4]