AB-201 Terrestrial Arctic Biology (15 ECTS)

Fieldwork in Ny-Ålesund

July 27, 2022
October 14, 2022
Autumn semester (July–October), annually
Letter grade (A through F)
Curriculum: Ca. 450 pages based on web resources, scientific papers and book chapters. See www.learningarcticbiology.info
Fieldwork, NOK 1200 (6 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
10/20 students
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue, one page hand-written notes, project report.
April 15, 2022


Simone Lang
Simone Lang
Associate professor, Arctic terrestrial biology

Course requirements:

60 ECTS within general natural sciences, of which 30 ECTS within the field of biology. The applicant must be enrolled in a programme at Bachelor level, or document that the courses are approved into the applicant’s current study programme.

The course should be combined with AB-204 Arctic Population Ecology (15 ECTS), and the two courses are designed to complement each other. It is recommended to attend the summer course AB-206 Introduction to Svalbard’s Terrestrial Flora and Fauna (5 ECTS) prior to attending AB-201 / AB-204.

Academic content:

The course offers an introduction to terrestrial and freshwater communities in the Arctic, approached by considering 1) origin of Arctic terrestrial biota, 2) adaptations of organisms to Arctic terrestrial habitats, and 3) how organisms interacts, both with their environment and with each other. Topics will be discussed in relation to climate history, current physical conditions, and future climate change. The course covers general Arctic aspects, but Svalbard is often used as an example when appropriate. Learning activities are structured to cover the main species groups of the Arctic terrestrial biota, including bacteria, fungi, mosses, plants, invertebrates, birds, and mammals. Freshwater ecology is included as an element of this course with both field activities and linked lectures.

The course runs before AB-204, with AB-201 complementing AB-204. AB-201 has substantial data and field-based research projects and the focus is towards species and habitat knowledge whereas AB-204 provides a deeper insight into the theoretical background of Arctic ecology and focuses on models, literature studies and analyses of existing databases. Students are expected to take both courses. The field work of AB-201 consists  of six days along the fjords and 2-4 days in the Longyearbyen area.

Learning outcomes:

Upon completing the course, the students can:

  • explain the origin and development of the Arctic terrestrial flora and fauna
  • explain how various species groups, like bacteria, fungi, mosses, vascular plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals are adapted to live under marginal Arctic conditions
  • explain ecological and trophical interactions between these various species groups, and how various abiotic factors, including climate change, affect this interplay.

Upon completing the course, the students can:

  • demonstrate practical skills in basic field and laboratory methods, like collection of limnic samples, perform vegetation analyses, and analyses of soil and water parameters
  • analyse collected field and laboratory data using basic statistical tools
  • relate their own field observations to knowledge achieved through lectures and literature in Arctic terrestrial biology
  • evaluate statements and results within the field of terrestrial Arctic biology by using the knowledge gained through the course.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students can:

  • plan and execute small field projects under challenging climatic conditions
  • demonstrate workload management and share information within a group
  • critically read and debate scientific literature orally
  • communicate scientific results, both in writing and orally.

Learning activities:

The course extends over 2,5 months. Initially, students attend compulsory Arctic survival and safety training.

Field excursions and a weeklong field cruise are central learning activities in AB-201. Fieldwork provides first-hand experience of the Arctic environment, and enables a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between biotic and abiotic factors. During the field cruise, we visit a range of different habitats; from recently deglaciated terrain to nutrient-rich bird-cliffs, and experience how the flora and fauna shifts along various abiotic and biotic gradients.

Research project in groups is an important learning activity in AB-201, and closely linked to the field cruise. During the first week, students are divided into groups, and given the responsibility to develop and conduct a small research project under guidance. Through “learning by doing”, the project work introduces students to field-based research methodology, and the process how to collect, analyse, evaluate and communicate scientific results. During the cruise, students practice various sampling techniques when collecting data for research projects. After the field cruise, we spend time in the lab, analysing collected samples. During the course, parallel with other learning activities, the students work with analyses and interpretations of their data, and each group delivers a written report and presents their data orally. Each student is also given the task of critically reviewing another report and delivers a referee report.

Besides lectures, we also utilize learning activities such as student driven seminars and literature discussions to achieve deeper content knowledge, and provide students with competence to read, evaluate and debate scientific literature.

Total lecture hours: 45 hours.
Total seminar hours: 25 hours.
Laboratory work: 6 days.
Field work: 6 days field cruise 6 days field excursion along the fjords, and 2-4 daytrips in the vicinity of Longyearbyen.

Compulsory learning activities:

Field work, seminars, lab work.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Percentage of final grade
Written report (group work) including individual reflections
Referee report (individual)
Oral exam (individual)

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 2022



UNIS students in Magdalenegfjorden, Svalbard

AB-201 students going ashore in Magdalenefjorden. Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS.

AB-201 at Kapp Linné, August 2011. Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS

AB-201 fieldwork at Kapp Linné. Photo: Steve Coulson/UNIS.


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The University Centre in Svalbard
Telephone: +47 79 02 33 00
Student inquiries: study@unis.no
E-mail: post@unis.no / webmaster@unis.no
Address: P.O. Box 156 N-9171 Longyearbyen
Org. no. 985 204 454


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