AG-848 Arctic Late Quaternary Glacial and Marine Environmental History (10 ECTS)

Ship in Brepollen, Hornsund. Illustration photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

How to apply

Autumn semester (August–September), every second year. Cancelled in 2020.
10 ECTS overlap with AG-348. 5 ECTS overlap with AG-332, AG-339, AG-832, AG-839
Letter grade (A through F)
Scientific papers and book chapters, ca. 950 pages
Fieldwork, NOK 1600 (8 days x NOK 200 per ovenight stay)
10/20 students (AG-348/848 in total)
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue
April 15, 2020


Riko Noormets
Riko Noormets
Professor, Marine Geology
Mark Furze
Mark Furze
Associate professor in quaternary geology

Course requirements:

Enrolment in a relevant PhD programme. Students must have general understanding of glacial sedimentology and stratigraphy. The course is intended for PhD students in glacial and Quaternary geology, marine geology and physical geography.

Students who have registered for or attended AG-326, AG-826, AG-342 or AG-842 will be given preference.

Academic content:

The course takes advantage of relatively easy access from UNIS to the fjords and field sites around Svalbard. Students’ ability to interpret the geological-geomorphological fingerprints of former ice masses is the key to understanding the past interactions between the Earth climate system and the cryosphere.

After training in Arctic field safety, the course starts with introductory lectures on Svalbard geology and history of concepts concerning the Late Quaternary Svalbard-Barents Sea glaciations.

Logging techniques, important Arctic sediment types and lithofacies, as well as chronological challenges in the Arctic, are dealt with in lectures, with reference to recent case studies. The various types of submarine glacial landforms, their dimensions, geometry, structure and distribution patterns, as well as how these parameters can be used to reconstruct the glacial sedimentary environments and former ice flow dynamics within, and at the margins of ice masses, will be discussed. The processes and products of glacial marine sedimentation from the innermost fjords to the continental shelf and slope will be covered. Acoustic and sedimentological methods used to collect data in glaciomarine environments will be reviewed as well.

The uniqueness of this course lies in that students get field training in working with both terrestrial and marine archives.

Learning outcomes:

Upon completing the course, the students will have good understanding of Late Quaternary stratigraphical successions on Svalbard and the Arctic, broad knowledge of Svalbard and Arctic morphology and landscape evolution on different temporal and spatial scales through glacial cycles, as well as an understanding of chronological and stratigraphic challenges on Svalbard and in the Arctic. They will have good understanding of evolution of high-latitude continental margins from the fjords to the continental slope in Late Quaternary and be able to critically analyze the geological records in the light of existing theories on Late Quaternary and current environmental changes.

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • have good knowledge and understanding of Late Quaternary stratigraphical successions in Svalbard and the Arctic, where repeated sequences of glacial, glaciomarine, marine littoral, fluvial and slope sediments fingerprint glacial-interglacial cycles
  • be able to recognize major lithofacies and lithofacies associations, as well as landforms and landform assemblages encountered in glacial-deglacial sequences
  • have advanced knowledge of glacial depositional environments and insight into the debris cascade through glaciations in the Arctic, and of the long-term climatic fluctuations between glacial and interglacial periods in the Arctic
  • have broad knowledge of Svalbard and Arctic morphology and landscape evolution on different temporal and spatial scales through glacial cycles, as well as an understanding of chronological and stratigraphic challenges in Svalbard and in the Arctic
  • have advanced knowledge of the structure and Late Quaternary evolution of high-latitude continental margins
  • have advanced understanding of the structure, major processes and evolution of high-latitude continental margins, from the fjords to the continental slope
  • be able to critically analyse the geological records of fjords and formerly glaciated continental margins in the light of existing Late Quaternary and present climate change theories.

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • have proficiency in applying lithostratigraphical and sedimentological field techniques on terrestrial and marine records
  • have skills in mapping/logging complex terrestrial and marine stratigraphical sequences and the ability to carry out an independent research project using state-of-the art field methods, as well as recording observations in accordance with high academic standards
  • have skills in analysing and interpreting field data and discussing findings in context with current theories and ideas on Quaternary glacial history
  • be able to perform integrated spatial and temporal analysis of terrestrial and submarine stratigraphic records and glacial landform assemblages
  • be able to interpret the extent and dynamics of former ice masses, and reconstruct the glacial marine sedimentary processes and environments based on the above-mentioned analysis
  • have skills in Arctic survival and safety techniques.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • master the most important elements of geological research projects: penetrating literature for status on studied area/objects, carrying out field research, analysing data and communicating results to fellow students/scientists, and be able to evaluate critically scientific literature and reports
  • have the ability to present observations and interpretations in accordance with state-of-the-art protocols for data documentation and handling
  • have the ability to communicate and discuss current academic concepts and theories and contribute new ideas regarding Quaternary environmental developments in Svalbard and the Arctic
  • be able to report findings and to formulate scholarly arguments when delivering lectures/seminars, reporting scientific finds and presenting data
  • be able to write a research project on a given topic by presenting and discussing own results in the light of published studies
  • have advanced experience in planning and executing expeditions in the Arctic
  • have independent as well as team-work skills
  • have competence in academic leadership and being able to take leading roles in the fieldwork and discussions.

Learning activities:

The course extends over 5 weeks including compulsory safety training, and is run in combination with AG-348.

Students are required to spend approximately one week of preparations before coming to UNIS, to read key-literature and prepare a seminar presentation.

The initial lectures are followed by seminars, where each student participant gives an oral presentation on a selected subject concerning the glacial and climate history of Svalbard, based on in-depth study of the literature.

Field school will be conducted during a 8–10 days cruise. Fjords and field sites visited will be different between years, but the overall aim is to visit areas where novel data can be collected from both marine and terrestrial archives. During the cruise, geological and geomorphological data will be obtained from various glacial marine and terrestrial environments. These data will be discussed aboard the vessel and in the following classroom exercises, if possible (subject to the timing of the cruise). Key sites on land will be visited for mapping stratigraphies and describing signatures of past glaciations (raised beaches, glacial morphology etc). The cruise will give students hands-on experience of various data collection and sampling procedures, under supervision.

The students will present their field results in the form of a scientific report. The data and observations collected during the fieldwork will be used to critically assess the validity of published interpretations of the Svalbard Late Quaternary glacial history. The report will be completed during 8-10 days of supervised time at UNIS, after the field school.

The participants are offered individual tutoring/carieer advice, where the supervising professors will discuss individual student’s competence development throughout the course.

Total lecture hours: 15 hours.
Total seminar hours: 16 hours.
Total exercise hours: 15 hours.
Total laboratory hours: 15 hours.
Total pre-assignments work: 50 hours.
Field excursion: Ca. 8–10 days.

Compulsory learning activities:

Active participation in seminars, lab exercises and fieldwork.
All compulsory educational activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Method Percentage of final grade
Pre-excursion presentations 25%
Written report (individual) 75%

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 2020


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