AG-826 Arctic Quaternary Environments (10 ECTS)

In front of Nordenskiöldbreen Svalbard

How to apply

Autumn semester (September–October), every second year. Cancelled in 2020.
10 ECTS overlap with AG-326
Letter grade (A through F)
Articles, book chapters: Ca. 1000 pages; see detailed curriculum here: AG-826 reading list
10/20 students (AG-326/826 in total)
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue
April 15, 2020


Mark Furze
Mark Furze
Associate professor in quaternary geology

Course requirements:

Enrolment in a PhD programme in Quaternary geology, glacial geology, physical geography or marine geology.

Academic content:

The course will give insight into the development of the Arctic through the Quaternary with emphasis on the interaction and feedbacks between climate developments, glaciers and the oceans through glacials and interglacials. This will be done through literature studies, state-of-the-art lectures, student seminars and discussions of the glacial histories of Svalbard-Barents Sea, Greenland, Iceland, Arctic Canada, Alaska, Northern Russia and Siberia. The course focuses on terrestrial records although marine and ice core records will also be discussed in order to highlight environmental changes around the Arctic basin and to discuss causes for climatic changes and feedback processes.

The preconditions of correlating different Quaternary records are robust geochronologies, and recent developments in dating techniques like Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), cosmogenic nuclide exposure and radiocarbon dating will be highlighted in case studies. Recent advances in ice-sheet modelling  and studies of palaeo-ice dynamics and landscape development in the Arctic will also be highlighted. The concept of distinctive ice dynamics and glacier regimes reflected in landscapes based on landform associations interrelated to cold-based non-erosive glacier ice and fast flowing ice streams will be studied.

Learning outcomes:

Upon completing the course, the students will have:

  • a broad and detailed overview of large-scale Late Quaternary glacial and climatic changes in the Arctic, as well as understanding of causal links in the build-up and decay of high-latitude large ice sheets
  • thorough knowledge of the Last Glacial Maximum ice sheets and their subsequent deglaciation
  • an in-depth understanding of circum-Arctic Holocene glacial and environmental changes
  • a thorough high-level understanding of natural palaeoclimatic variations and glacial history in the Arctic, how ice sheet configurations have been reconstructed in various Arctic key regions, as well as an awareness of major challenges in Arctic palaeoglacial and palaeoclimatic research
  • an in-depth understanding of history of concepts and paradigm shifts regarding the glacial and climate history of the Arctic
  • an advanced knowledge of certain “hot” themes (themes will vary between individual years), like “Little Ice Age in the Arctic“, “Fingerprints of the Anthropocene in the Arctic”, “Chronological challenges in the Arctic”, “Modelling arctic ice sheets”, etc.

Upon completing the course, the students will have:

  • skills in penetrating, critically assessing, and analysing large datasets that are the basis of important syntheses on development of the Arctic glacial and climate systems through time
  • skills in communicating extensive works and mastering the terminology of Quaternary and palaeoclimate research
  • skills in formulating and outlining outstanding research questions
  • skills in presenting complex overviews and taking lead in group discussions on outstanding questions concerning regional Quaternary palaeoenvironmental developments
  • skills in challenging established knowledge and paradigms
  • skills in providing mentorship and guidance in complex Quaternary and palaeoenvironmental subjects.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • be able to identify new relevant research questions, critically discuss and assess glacial and palaeoclimatic reconstructions from literature, and develop alternative ideas
  • be well acquainted with current conceptual thinking in Quaternary geology
  • be able to debate existing reconstructions of Arctic glacier and palaeoclimate development, and identify areas where more research is needed
  • be able to communicate important research questions and themes, both orally and in writing, at international standards
  • be able to take initiatives and exercise academic leadership
  • be able to provide guidance, constructive critisism, and mentorship to more junior scholars.


Learning activities:

The course extends over five weeks including compulsory safety training, and is run in combination with AG-326.

The course will have a theoretical part with lectures, literature studies and discussion seminars, and up to four excursion days, depending on weather conditions. The excursions will give the students an opportunity to experience glacial sediments, stratigraphies and landforms.

Total lecture hours: 40 hours.
Total seminar hours: 25 hours.
Excursion: 1–4 days.

Compulsory learning activities:

Active participation in seminar presentations and excursions.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Method Duration
Percentage of final grade
Weekly short report x 4 20%
Written take-home exam  48 hours 80%

All assessments must be passed in order to pass the course.


Application deadline: 15 April 2020


In front of Nordenskiöldbreen Svalbard

AG-326/826 students studying glacier erosion. Photo: Anne Hormes/UNIS.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


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


UNIS logo


Research-based education of the next generation of Arctic experts