AB-322 Fluxes of Nutrients, Energy and Contaminants from Sea to Land (10 ECTS)






February 15, 2024


June 24, 2024


July 26, 2024

Little auks (Alle alle) photographed during AB-322 fieldwork. Photo: Geir Wing Gabrielsen/UNIS

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:None
Course Capacity Min/Max:10/20 students
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

Course requirements

Enrolment in a relevant master programme in biology. Basic knowledge in marine or terrestrial biology and chemistry will be advantageous.

Academic content

The students will gain insight into seabird ecology and fluxes of matter, nutrients, pollutants and energy from marine to terrestrial ecosystems. The course will focus on the connections across the terrestrial-marine boundary, and the importance of the marine environment and productivity for some Arctic terrestrial ecosystems.

The main topic of interest will be Arctic seabirds that nest in large, dense colonies, their dependence on the hydrological regime and biological productivity in the waters around Svalbard. The impact of seabirds on the terrestrial ecosystem will be studied. Bird guano has an important fertilizing effect on the vegetation in the vicinity of colonies. The lush green area below seabird colonies is an eye-catching feature of an otherwise impoverished Arctic landscape. These green oases are important grazing areas for herbivorous such as the Svalbard reindeer, Svalbard ptarmigan,  geese and waders. These areas are also important hunting areas for carnivores such as the Arctic fox.

Students will also focus on the interdependence of terrestrial and marine environments for important groups of Arctic animals. The connection between land and sea will be described and quantified based on our current understanding of the topic. In order to get a first-hand experience, the students will have one week of intensive fieldwork, analysis of samples in the laboratory and putting these data into a model to calculate the fluxes from sea to land, and from land (seabird colonies) to sea.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • have a better understanding of all aspects of matter, nutrient, pollutants and energy fluxes from sea to land and from seabird colonies to the marine ecosystem
  • have good knowledge of seabird ecology and their contribution to terrestrial ecosystems
  • be able to describe research-based methods to study fluxes in Arctic ecosystems.


  • be able to separate different seabird species, have knowledge on their ecology and their role and impact on the Arctic ecosystem
  • be able to conduct research-based fieldwork within marine and terrestrial ecology, using relevant sampling techniques and methods to analyse collected data.

General competences

  • have practical experience from doing field sampling, putting field data into scientific contexts, conducting analyses of samples and data and making interpretations of data
  • have experience in writing a report from field and laboratory studies on fluxes in Arctic ecosystems.

Learning activities

The course extends over ca 5 weeks including compulsory safety training, and is run in combination with AB-822.

Learning will be achieved via a combination of lectures, intensive field-, lab and group work.

One week theoretical introduction and preparation of field activities will be followed by one week of field activities (work in the seabird colony and marine and terrestrial excursions). Sampling will be conducted in the seabird colony (Bjørndalen) and in Isfjorden. A boat trip to other seabird colonies (Alkhornet) in Adventfjorden will be done during the field week of the course. The last part of the course will include lectures, laboratory analyses of samples, and work on a course report. Working in groups, the students will produce a scientific course report on the flux of matter and energy from the sea to the land, based on the course theory, field- and lab work. An oral presentation of the report sums up the course.


  • Total lecture hours:  30 hours.
  • Laboratory work:  25 hours.
  • Excursions/fieldwork:  7 days.

Compulsory learning activities

  • Field excursions
  • Laboratory work
  • Oral presentation of the report
    All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.


  • All assessments must be passed in order to pass the course.
  • Only the final grade will be reported, based on an average of the grades from the examination parts.
Percentage of final grade
 Written report  50%
 Written exam 4 hours 50%

Student life

Students walking the mountainside in Bjørndalen.
AB-322 students on excursion in Bjørndalen. Photo: Silje Kristiansen.
Taking food samples from a Little Auk
AB-322 students taking food samples from a Little auk. The bird is released afterwards. Photo: Silje Kristiansen.