AG-346 Snow and Avalanche Dynamics (10 ECTS)

Sluch avalanche in Svalbard

April 20, 2022
May 27, 2022
Spring semester (April - May), every second year.
Letter grade (A through F)
The Avalanche Handbook, other 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
October 15, 2021

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 those who are working on a master thesis in snow and avalanche science. Ability to travel via skis or snowboard in mountainous terrain in harsh environmental conditions is necessary.

Academic content:

This course focuses on developing a theoretical and practical framework for observing, understanding, and mitigating hazards associated with key snow and avalanche processes in Svalbard’s high-Arctic and other snow covered alpine areas. We will consider how physical processes control the development of seasonal snow covers across a range of temporal and spatial scales with particular emphasis on key processes relevant to Svalbard’s unique environmental setting. Key theoretical components of this course include understanding:

  • the accumulation, redistribution, and metamorphism of snow in the seasonal snow cover
  • the climatological, meteorological, and topographical controls on snow and avalanche formation
  • release theory and mechanics
  • the mechanical, radiative, thermal, and hydrological properties of the snowpack
  • the temporal and spatial variability of seasonal snowpacks and the implications of this variability for designing sampling or data acquisition routines.

From this scientific framework, this course also emphasizes developing a practical and applied understanding of avalanche hazard mitigation strategies including avalanche hazard mapping, run-out modeling, structural avalanche defense design and implementation, and avalanche forecasting.

This course has a specific focus on developing the skills necessary for safe, efficient, and robust snow and avalanche data collection in harsh winter conditions. Field activities will emphasize the collection of manual snow and avalanche observations to professional international standards and will introduce various modern remote sensing tools, data products, and verification strategies.

Seminars will deal with papers based on relevant field studies to improve the understanding of processes and current best practices. 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 a comprehensive understanding of the physical processes influencing the seasonal snow cover and snow avalanche activity
  • understand the key processes and controls on Svalbard’s unique high-Arctic maritime snow avalanche climate
  • have knowledge of modern research techniques and best practice hazard mitigation strategies
  • understand how knowledge gained in this specific snow avalanche setting can be applied to other high-latitude or alpine regions.

Upon completing the course, the students will be able to:

  • safely perform manual snow and avalanche observations to an international standard
  • describe modern snow and avalanche data techniques and plan research using appropriate methodology
  • analyze and assess scientific papers and theoretical approaches to understanding snow and avalanche processes
  • structure and formulate new research questions independently, working with both practical and theoretical snow and avalanche issues

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • be able to communicate scientifically and professionally about snow and avalanche science
  • be able to safely undertake fieldwork in avalanche terrain under harsh winter conditions
  • have the scientific competency to critically assess data sources and employ modern observation techniques to plan snow and avalanche research activity
  • be able to critically assess various avalanche hazard mitigation strategies
  • 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 ca 5 weeks including compulsory safety training.

The course will have a theoretical component with class based lectures and seminars and a practical component comprised of excursions, fieldwork, and computer-based exercises. Excursions and fieldwork will emphasize understanding the regional snow and avalanche setting in the mountains around Longyearbyen and developing skills to observe snow and avalanche processes. The fieldwork and excursions will be subject to change based on snow, avalanche, and weather conditions. Fieldwork will be conducted in groups, and will correspond to two projects (reports / presentations) over the duration of the course. These projects will constitute 70% 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
Two projects submitted during the course period 70%
Written exam 2 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 October 2021

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

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


UNIS logo
Arctic Education and Research for Global Challenges

Newsletter signup

Mobile menu toggle