AG-352 Geohazards and geotechnics in high Arctic permafrost regions (10 ECTS)

A large debris flow occured close to the cemetary in Longyearbyen on 15 October 2016. Professor Hanne Christiansen pictured to the left. Photo: Ole Humlum/UNIS

June 1, 2022
July 7, 2022
Autumn semester (June - July), annually
Letter grade (A through F)
Primarily journal articles and other scientific literature exemplifying the themes presented during the course. Books: (1) Williams PJ, Smith MW (1989) The Frozen Earth: Fundamentals of Geocryology; (2) Andersland OB, Ladanyi B. (2004) Frozen ground engineering (2ed). In addition, technical descriptions of instrumentation and software will be provided.
200-600 NOK (up to 3 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
10/20 students
February 15, 2022

Course requirements:

Enrollment in a relevant master programme. Minimum 60 ECTS (or equivalent) in geosciences, geotechnics, civil engineering, or other relevant course work.

Academic content:

The objective is to introduce geohazards and elements of geotechnics relevant in high-Arctic permafrost landscapes. Topics will include:

  • permafrost and the ground thermal regime
  • landforms in permafrost areas
  • ground ice
  • mechanical behavior of freezing, frozen, and thawing soils,
  • foundations and infrastructure design in permafrost environments
  • hydrology and impoundments in the Arctic
  • slope stability and mass wasting
  • risk assessments in relation to geohazards and infrastructure in the Arctic.

The course is intended for students with a background in either geoscience or civil/geotechnical engineering. One of the underlying objectives of this course is to develop collaboration between students of different backgrounds.

Learning outcomes:

With increased development in a changing Arctic, it is important to understand the engineering and geoenvironmental challenges unique to permafrost settings. Students will develop an advanced understanding of the permafrost science, select elements of periglacial geomorphology, design techniques for infrastructure in permafrost environments, hydrology in permafrost environments, and geohazards in high-relief permafrost landscapes.


Upon completing the course, the students will have:

  • an advanced understanding of the relation between climate and permafrost
  • the ability to apply soil investigation methods used in permafrost environments
  • an understanding of drilling, field testing, and laboratory methods used in the design of infrastructure in cold regions
  • the ability to identify and evaluate geohazards in permafrost environments.


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

  • analyze ground temperatures and climatic data to monitor permafrost change over time
  • apply methods for sampling frozen soils
  • calculate the physical properties of permafrost soils in the laboratory
  • perform basic site investigations in permafrost settings
  • apply modern geotechnical field and laboratory methods on frozen samples
  • create maps of hazards in high-Arctic permafrost landscapes
  • evaluate natural hazards for infrastructure planning.

General competences

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

  • create a field plan and apply field techniques – demanding interdisciplinary collaboration between geoscientists and engineers
  • evaluate suitable methods for site investigations for different soil and permafrost conditions in different types of projects.

Learning activities:

The course extends over ca 5 weeks including compulsory safety training.

For each theme, introductory lectures will be coupled with local excursions and introduction to field techniques. Several days of field work will be undertaken, where students will be introduced to aspects of field investigations and relevant techniques for monitoring and instrumentation. Laboratory analyses on samples collected on fieldwork will be carried out. Students will present their results in groups.

Preassignments, reading etc.: 24 hrs
Total lecture hours: 25 hrs
Total seminar hours: 10 hrs
Total exercise hours: 8 hrs
Laboratory work: 2 days
Excursions: 2 days
Fieldwork: 3 days

Compulsory learning activities:

Attendance of minimum 80% of lectures, participation in field and laboratory activities.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to be registered for the final assessment.


Method Percentage of final grade
Group oral presentation of field work 60%
Group written field report 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 February 2022

A large debris flow occured close to the cemetary in Longyearbyen on 15 October 2016. Professor Hanne Christiansen pictured to the left. Photo: Ole Humlum/UNIS

A large debris flow occured close to the cemetary in Longyearbyen on 15 October 2016. Photo: Ole Humlum/UNIS.

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


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