AGF-210 The Middle Polar Atmosphere (15 ECTS)

Aurora over Kjell Henriksen Observatory

August 15, 2022
November 28, 2022
Autumn semester (August–November), annually
Letter grade (A through F)
The theoretical background of the course is based on selected chapters of the following books: 1) An introduction to atmospheric physics by Andrews (~chapters 1-3), Cambridge University Press, 2000. 2) Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology by Holton (~chapters 4 & 7), Elsevier, 1992. 3) Middle Atmosphere Dynamics by Andrews, Holton and Leovy (~chapters 3-4), Academic press, 1987. 4) Aeronomy of the Middle Atmosphere by Brasseur and Solomon (~chapters 5-7), Springer, 2005. 5) In addition, some topic-specific science articles will be included.
Fieldwork, max NOK 600 (up to 3 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
7/13 students
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue, non-programmable calculator


Noora Partamies
Noora Partamies
Professor, Middle atmospheric physics

Course requirements:

60 ECTS within the fields of mathematics and physics or a related discipline. 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 AGF-223 Remote Sensing and Space Instrumentation (15 ECTS).

Academic content:

This course will lead to basic understanding of key properties and processes of the polar region stratosphere and mesosphere, the polar middle atmosphere. These include radiation, chemistry, dynamics and circulation, particle precipitation, aerosol physics and wave activity. The propagation and effect of planetary and gravity waves will be described. The importance of waves in connecting the middle atmosphere and the troposphere will be discussed. Special attention will be paid to how radar, lidar, optical and rocket instrumentation can be used to investigate the middle layers of the atmosphere.

The students will get an introduction to the physics of aerosol particles and their role in formation of noctilucent clouds, polar stratospheric clouds, and mesospheric radar echoes. Measurements of stratospheric and mesospheric ozone will be introduced. The field component will consist of a number of excursions to relevant  research facilities nearby Longyearbyen, such as atmospheric radar sites and the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) as well as an excursion to Ny-Ålesund.

Learning outcomes:

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • be able to explain why all parts of the Earth’s atmosphere must be considered in climate studies and long-term weather forecasts
  • be able to describe how solar particle influx, UV radiation and meteoric smoke particles can affect the chemistry and dynamics of the atmosphere
  • have obtained a solid overview on how different remote sensing and in-situ measurement techniques can be used to study the middle atmosphere.

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • have experience in examining the effects of radiation, chemistry, solar particle influx, aerosols and waves on the middle atmosphere using theoretical calculations and available measurements
  • have the ability to analyse atmospheric data, using specialized software and by writing scripts in Matlab or other similar programming languages.

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

  • describe the key processes in the middle atmosphere
  • describe the driving forces of the middle atmospheric processes
  • explain connections between the middle atmospheric phenomena and processes in the upper and lower atmosphere.

Learning activities:

The course extends over a full semester. Initially, students attend two days of compulsory Arctic survival and safety training.

Through interactive lectures with experts in different topics the students will achieve basic knowledge about key physical processes and theoretical tools necessary to understand the observations during the fieldwork. Exercises will include visualizing and interpreting measurements and solving theoretical problems to understand the physics behind the observed phenomena. During the field trips the students will be introduced to a full range of scientific instrumentation and measurements techniques commonly used within the field.

Total lecture hours: Ca. 70 hours.
Total exercise hours: Ca. 40 hours.
Fieldwork / excursions: 5-7 days.

Compulsory learning activities:

Fieldwork and written report.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Method Duration
Percentage of final grade
Written exam  5 hours 80%
Web quizzes 20%

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: As soon as possible

To apply, send an e-mail to with information about which study programme you are currently enrolled in. Also list the course code/name for the course(s) you are interested in applying for. Please remember that your enrolment must be valid during your planned stay at UNIS.


Aurora over Kjell Henriksen Observatory

Northern lights dance above the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO). Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/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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