Geomorphological regionalization theory system and division methodology of China

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Geomorphological regionalization (geomor-region) and geomorphological type (geomor-type) classification are two core components in the geomorphologic research. Although remarkable achievements have been made in the study of geomor-region, many deficiencies still exist, such as the inconsistency of landform indicators, the small quantity of division orders, disparities of geomorphological characteristics, differences of mapping results, and the small scale of zoning maps. Requirements for improved national geo-mor-regions are therefore needed for the purpose of an enhanced national geo-information system. Based on theories of geomor-region in China including plate tectonics, crustal features, endogenic and exogenic forced geomorphological features, and regional differentiations of geomor-type, a three-order (major-region, sub-region, and small-region) research program on China’s geomor-regions is proposed on the basis of previous 2013 geo-mor-region system. The major contents of the new geomor-region scheme are: (1) principles of the national multi-order geomor-regions; (2) hierarchical indicator systems of geo-mor-regions including characteristics of the terrain ladder under the control of tectonic setting, combinations of regional macro-form types, combinations of endogenic and exogenic forces and basic types of morphology, combinations of regional morphological types, and combinations of regional micro-morphological types; (3) naming rules and coding methods of geo-mor-regions; and (4) precise positioning techniques and methods of multi-order geo-mor-region divisions based on multi-source data. Using the new geomor-region theory and division methodology, the partition of national three-order geomor-regions of China was successfully constructed. The geomor-region system divided China into six first-order major-regions, 36 second-order sub-regions, and 136 third-order small-regions. In addition, a database and management information system of the national geomor-regions were established. This research has an important guiding significance for promoting the development of China’s regional geomorphology and for practical applications based on geomor-regions.

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We thank Alex Boon, PhD, and Sara J. Mason, MSc, from Liwen Bianji, Edanz Editing China (, for editing the English text of a draft of this manuscript. We also thank Professor Liu Yongbo at the University of Guelph for checking and revising the language, and the editor and anonymous reviewers for their labor and precious time spent improving our manuscript.

Author information

Correspondence to Weiming Cheng.

Additional information

Foundation: National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41590845, No.41421001, No.41571388

Author: Wang Nan (1990-), PhD, specialized in disaster GIS.

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Wang, N., Cheng, W., Wang, B. et al. Geomorphological regionalization theory system and division methodology of China. J. Geogr. Sci. 30, 212–232 (2020) doi:10.1007/s11442-020-1724-9

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  • geomorphological regionalization
  • geomorphological types
  • hierarchical system
  • China