AG-346 Snow and Avalanche Dynamics (10 ECTS)

Sluch avalanche in Svalbard

How to apply

March 2019
April 2019
Spring semester (April–May), every second year. Next course: Spring 2019
Letter grade (A through F)
Textbooks and journal articles, totaling ca. 700–800 pages
Field excursion NOK 400 (2 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
10/20 students
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue
15 October 2018


Alexander Prokop. Photo: UNIS
Alexander Prokop
Associate Professor, Snow science

Course requirements:

Enrolment in a relevant master programme. Preference will be given to students that have a background in snow and avalanche science and/or are working on a master thesis in snow and avalanche science.

Academic content:

This course focus on the science of the key snow and avalanche processes. The course examines the meteorological background for snow in particular the snowfall and wind redistribution processes, and how the snow cover develops over varying temporal and spatial scales. Students will consider all of the physical attributes of the snow cover from the local to the regional to the global setting, and place the seasonal snow cover in the wider cryospheric global context. The theoretical part of the course will introduce snow science basics, including a scientific understanding of the physical properties of the snowpack including the mechanical, radiative, thermal and hydrological properties. Students will learn how and why these properties behave in the ways that they do. We will examine issues related to spatial and temporal scales and implications for sampling. Finally there will be an emphasis on snow avalanches and snow dynamics including consideration of avalanche hazard mapping, run-out modelling, hazard mitigation and forecasting. This will provide knowledge and skills in current international best practice for snow avalanche management and mitigation.

The course has a specific focus on developing skills and knowledge about snow science and avalanche dynamics, and will be very strongly field based. The field classes will also be a rich setting for field based lectures and demonstrations. In the field we will develop skills to make efficient and robust data collection to a prescribed standard. This will include observations of snow crystal type, form, size, density, hardness, temperature as well as snow stability and snow water content tests. In the field documentation of the physical properties of the snowpack includes also the mechanical, radiative, thermal and hydrological properties, the snow stratigraphy, and learning how to conduct a series of snow stability, snow structure and snow water content observations and tests. Most of the field classes will be completed in different parts of the mountain landscape surrounding UNIS. We will also use the student housing as a case study to examine snow avalanche risk, estimate maximum run-out zones and impact pressures and consider mitigation options. This strong field component makes this course unique.

Seminars will deal with papers based on relevant field studies, to improve the understanding of processes, and current best practice. Discussions will concentrate on identifying the critical questions for future snow science research, and how procedures might be devised to address these questions.

Learning outcomes:

Upon completing the course, the students will:
Have detailed knowledge on snow science in an intensive, strongly field based course, and be able to use the specific knowledge from Svalbards high arctic landscape for analysing other cold climatic areas. Have knowledge of the high arctic maritime snowpack of Svalbard, and its climatically large inter-annual variability and dependency.

Upon completing the course, the students will:
Be able to describe modern research methods, including field data collection methods and theoretical approaches to understanding snow science processes and applications, and be able to analyse existing theories and plan research using appropriate methods. Be able to analyse and deal critically with various scientific papers and data on snow science, and be able to use this knowledge to structure and formulate new research questions independently, working both with practical and theoretical problems. Demonstrate good avalanche terrain travel behavior, which is a critical safety element for successful snow and avalanche research.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students will:
Have scientific competency within snow science to communicate, analyse and carry out detailed projects. Know how to move safely in avalanche terrain, and to safely undertake research in this environment. Place emphasis on application of snow avalanches dynamics including consideration of avalanche hazard mapping, run-out modelling, hazard mitigation and forecasting, providing competence in current international best practice for snow avalanche management and mitigation. Be able to apply the techniques, methods and skills learned in this course to snow cover anywhere in the world.

Learning activities:

The course extends over 3 weeks including compulsory safety training.

The course will have a theoretical part with class based lectures and seminars. There will also be an extensive fieldwork component, with six one day field based classes and a two days excursion. The field days will include snow lectures and hands on demonstrations to illustrate key processes and tasks while in the field.

The final field excursion will present a deeper, even more maritime snowpack in the coastal areas of Svalbard, and examine issues related to spatial regional variability. The fieldwork and excursions may be subject to changes, depending upon the weather conditions.

Each field class will include a laboratory exercise conducted in groups of 2–3 students, which has to be written up as a formal laboratory report. These six reports combined with one field excursion report, will constitute 60% of the final grade.

Total lecture hours: 30 hours (10 of which will be in the field).
Total exercise hours: 20 hours.
Fieldwork or field excursion: 8 days.

Compulsory learning activities:

Fieldwork, field excursions, field and laboratory exercises, scientific paper presentations.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Method Duration
Percentage of final grade
Six field reports and one field trip report 60%
Written exam 2 hours 40%

All assessments must be passed in order to pass the course.
Each assessment is graded, and subsequently combined into a single grade. Partial grades for each assessment will be available.

Application deadline: 15 October 2018

Skking in Svalbard

AG-346 students on their way to fieldwork. Photo: Erik Kuschel.

AG-346 student measuring snow profile. Photo: Erik Kuschel.

AG-346 student measuring snow quality. Photo: Erik Kuschel.

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The University Centre in Svalbard
Telephone: +47 79 02 33 00
Fax: +47 79 02 33 01
E-mail: /
Address: P.O. Box 156 N-9171 Longyearbyen
Org. no. 985 204 454


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