AT-831 Arctic Environmental Pollution: Distribution and Processes (10 ECTS)

Longyearbyen Svalbard 2007

Spring semester (January–February), annually. Cancelled spring 2021.
5 ECTS with AT-321 and 10 ECTS with AT-331
Letter grade (A through F)
300 - 350 pages of reading, in addition to some film materials
Fieldwork, NOK 800-1000 (4-5 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
10/20 students (AT-331/831 in total)
Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue. Non-programmable calculator
October 15, 2020


Øyvind Mikkelsen. Photo: UNIS.
Øyvind Mikkelsen
Adjunct professor, Environmental and Analytical Chemistry

UNIS contact person: Arne Aalberg

Course requirements:

Enrolment in a relevant PhD programme. Students should have a minimum of 15 ECTS in chemistry, and 7.5 ECTS in mathematics.

Academic content:

Svalbard is located in a remote area of the Arctic in the highest Northern latitude, however it is still well connected to the rest of the world through dynamic atmospheric and marine currents. The Arctic environment receives contaminants from both long-range transport from mainland Europe, North America and Russia, as well as local anthropogenic inputs from such as coal mining, which powers the town of Longyearbyen. Moreover, the Arctic exhibits unique environmental conditions including long periods of Arctic summer and polar night, extreme temperatures, dry air and strong wind. These particular physical conditions will affect the environmental chemistry we will measure in the class and plays a role in affecting persistence (lifetime) and distributions of contaminants in the Arctic environment. Climate change is expected to play a role, yet unspecified, in this process.

Specific topics:

  • Processes and behavior of Arctic main contaminants
  • Long distance transportation of persistent organic compounds and black carbon
  • Black carbon local emissions in relation to fossil fuel and coal burning
  • Coal dust impacts on snow due to local mining activities
  • Trace metal pollution in the Arctic
  • Mercury in the Arctic environment, sources, occurrence, mechanisms of toxicity and impacts
  • The real “POPs” defined: persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic (PBT)
  • Arctic conditions that affect “P” and “B” in PBT
  • Chemistry of the polar environment
  • Contaminant storage in ice in the Arctic and the effects of a changing climate.
  • Forecasting and hindcasting movement of contaminants through the Arctic atmosphere: the application of models
  • Modeling the impact of light absorbing impurities (black carbon and coal dust) on local snow albedo.
  • Have awareness of human impacts on the natural environment in general
  • The role of particles in Arctic atmospheric contaminant distribution

Learning outcomes:

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • have basic knowledge of the local and long-range sources of contaminants found in the Arctic
  • have an understanding of the common fate and transportation routes of contaminants found in the Arctic
  • have advanced knowledge including theoretical and practical learning inputs about the main characteristic contaminants found in the Arctic such as trace metals, PAHs and PCBs
  • have detailed knowledge of how physical-chemical processes in the Arctic work differently in the Arctic than at mid-latitude locations
  • understand the specific characteristics of different types of atmospheric models
  • have an understanding of how light absorbing impurities influence the chemistry of snow and ice, as well as physical snow and ice properties, such as albedo.

Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • be able to use the HYSPLIT 4.0 computer model for development of various air mass trajectories
  • have skills in interpreting the results of lagrangian atmospheric models
  • hold advanced skills in operating various field devices, for collecting and measuring contaminants in different environmental matrices (air, snow, soil)
  • have the ability to analyse light absorbing impurities (such as black carbon and dust) in the field and laboratory, and model the impact on the physical snow albedo
  • learn how to make an animation movie as a tool to communicate about scientific topics.

General competences
Upon completing the course, the students will:

  • be able to apply appropriate eulerian or lagrangian atmospheric models to studies of atmospheric transport of contaminants
  • be able to apply proper atmospheric sampling systems to support research goals
  • be capable of producing and communicating scientific results, by writing field- and lab reports and a scientific manuscript
  • be able to interpret and discuss about scientific data through different learning platforms such as seminars or play role games.

The learning outcomes are similar for AT-331 and AT-831, but deeper learning and higher personal home work effort is expected for students taking the AT-831 course.

Learning activities:

The course extends over a period of ca. 6 weeks including compulsory safety training, and is run in combination with AT-331.

The students must prepare a 10 pages manuscript (including text, references, figures and tables) on a chosen research topic. Students must participate in seminars led by other AT-831 students on a topic relevant to AT-331/831.

Total lecture hours: 30 hours.
Modelling (computer) exercises: 6 hours.
Home work: 50 hours
Student-led seminars: 15 hours.
Laboratory work: Ca. 15 hours.
Fieldwork: 4-5 days.

The content of the course might be subject to changes due to environmental conditions or unforeseen factors.

Compulsory learning activities:

Written reports on field, lab, or modelling exercises as assigned.
All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


Method Duration
Percentage of final grade
Research paper 40%
Animation movie 20%
Written exam 3 hours 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 October 2020



Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The University Centre in Svalbard
Telephone: +47 79 02 33 00
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