AT-210 Arctic Environmental Pollution (15 ECTS)

coal dust Longyearbyen Svalbard

How to apply

Autumn semester (August–December), annually. Cancelled in 2019.
15 ECTS with AT-207
Letter grade (A through F)
Books, articles, compendia; Ca. 700 pages
10/20 students
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue.
April 15, 2019

Course requirements:

The course is interdisciplinary. Students must meet the prerequisites for UNIS bachelor studies in biology, geology, geophysics or technology. A minimum of one university-level course in chemistry and in mathematics is required.

Academic content:

While the Arctic is remote from most industrial activity, some areas are highly polluted. Point sources of pollution in the Arctic are associated with industrial or military sites. Long-distance transport through atmosphere or ocean delivers non-point or diffuse pollutants; these sources and processes are less understood.

The unusual combinations of Arctic ambient conditions (long periods of darkness, cold, dry air, strong wind, ice cover, permafrost) affects the distributions to and lifetimes of pollutants in the Arctic. These features affect the impacts of pollutants on wildlife and Native communities in the Arctic. Students will also learn that research on Arctic pollution can influence public policy decisions requiring that scientists acquire effective communication skills with the public.

Specific topics:

  • On-site pollution in Svalbard.
  • Point and non-point pollution sources in general and in the Arctic.
  • Radioactive pollution in the Arctic from local and long-distance sources.
  • Trace metal pollution in the Arctic (particularly mercury).
  • Pollution in the Arctic by synthetic organic compounds.
  • Decomposition processes in the Arctic atmosphere (oxidation, photolysis) and the role of UV energy.
  • Movement of pollutants through the atmosphere to the Arctic.
  • Pollutant movement through the Arctic food chain; metabolism, retention, excretion.
  • Health effects of Arctic pollutants on humans and wildlife.
  • Air pollution effects on polar stratospheric ozone depletion.
  • Science communication with policy-makers and the public (development of the Montreal Protocol, Stockholm Convention, Chemical Weapons Treaty).

Learning outcomes:

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • Understand that the Arctic is contaminated by pollutants from local and long-distant sources; know what types of contaminants are found and why, and understand how global regulations and policies on contaminants have affected their appearance in the Arctic and elsewhere.
  • Know the definitions of persistence, bioaccumulation and toxicity in reference to contaminants found in the Arctic environment. Know basic toxicological processes in humans and wildlife resulting from exposure to toxic substances in the environment, particularly in the Arctic.
  • Understand that the Arctic in general and Svalbard in particular are likely to be different places than often characterized (as pristine) because of industrialization, transportation, pollution.

Upon completing the course, the students will have:

  • Competence in application of the general linear model in statistics.
  • Skills in operating active air sampling equipment used in the field, treating samples in the laboratory, and handling statistical interpretations of data.
  • Skills in operating field instruments for UV-A and UV-B energy deposition, data collection and interpretation associated with these instruments.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • Be able to discuss the impacts of human activity on contamination and preservation of the Arctic.
  • Have awareness of human impacts on the natural environment in general.
  • Present basic understanding of how physical-chemical processes operate differently in the Arctic, and how those processes are related to the appearance of pollutants in the Arctic.

Learning activities:

The course extends over a full semester. Prior to the course students attend two days of compulsory Arctic survival and safety training.

Total lecture hours: 60 hours.
Total seminar hours: Ca. 15 hours.
Local field & lab work, excursions: 2 days.

Compulsory learning activities:

Attendance at laboratory and fieldwork, and at essay presentations.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Method Duration
Percentage of final grade
A 5000-word manuscript 50%
Two written mid-term exams (incl. take home part) 2 hours (each) 20%
Written final exam (incl. take home part) 4 hours  30%

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 April 2019

Field work in Svalbard

AT-210 fieldwork. Photo: Henrik Rasmussen/UNIS.

coal dust Longyearbyen Svalbard

Fans of coal dust at Hotellneset. Photo: Markus Eckerstorfer/UNIS.

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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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