AB-821 Ecology of Arctic Marine Benthos (10 ECTS)






April 15, 2023


August 28, 2023


October 06, 2023


Autumn semester (August - October), every second year.

AB-321/821 onboard R/V Helmer Hanssen. Photo: Fredrik Broms/Akvaplan-niva

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:Fieldwork, ca. NOK 2000 (10 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
Course Capacity Min/Max:9/18 students (AB-321/821 in total)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

Contact person

Course requirements

Enrolment in a PhD programme in biology or other relevant field, and knowledge similar to AB-202 Arctic Marine Biology.

Academic content

The students will gain insight into the taxonomy, biogeography and ecology of the main benthic species in Svalbard waters and the polar basin North of Svalbard. The course has a special emphasis on hands-on identification of benthos as well as processes important for understanding the Arctic marine ecosystem.

Lectures deal with identification of benthic species, life history and functional traits, trophic interactions and physical forcing. The practical field work will be designed by the teachers, with input from students enrolled in AB-821, and implemented into the course. Work during cruises will focus on several research projects that integrate acquired knowledge and skills, and will vary from year to year, targeting specific habitats or ecological processes. 

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • understand benthic biodiversity patterns and ecological interactions characteristic of high Arctic ecosystems 
  • have command over the taxonomy, biogeography and ecology of the main benthic species in Svalbard waters and the polar basin north of Svalbard. 
  • In addition, AB-821 students will be responsible for extended readings and assessment that provide both greater breadth and depth in Arctic benthic ecology across the Arctic. 


  • be able to identify common Arctic marine benthic species
  • understand strengths and weaknesses of common benthic sampling techniques, 
  • formulate hypotheses, design sampling plans, and be competent at working alone and in collaborative groups 
  • display advanced competence in graphical presentation of data, and synthesis of theory and empirical data into a final presentation of research results

General competences

  • have acquired practical experience relating field data to scientific contexts 
  • apply basic and advanced statistical analyses to data they have collected 
  • interpret data to evaluate scientific hypotheses in the context of ecological theory. 
  • The students will also assess benthic systems in Svalbard waters in a pan-Arctic context. 

Learning activities

The course extends over 6 weeks, including compulsory safety training, and is run in combination with AB-321. AB-821 runs one more week after the completion of AB-321.

A one-week theoretical introduction and preparation of field activities will be followed by a 10- day research cruise. During this cruise, sampling will be conducted in different localities around Svalbard (fjord and off-shelf). The last part of the course (around 3 weeks) will contain 2 weeks of lab exercises focused on species identification and other relevant analysis of the collected material on which a final written report will be submitted.The last week of the PhD course is dedicated to preparing a scientific report based on the data from the cruise, and may include seminars on data analysis and presentation, and report writing. Depending on the number of PhD students enrolled, this last week may be conducted as home-study (i.e. not required to be in Svalbard), as determined by the instructor.


  • Total lecture hours: 20 hours.
  • Laboratory/exercises/seminars: 25 hours.
  • Scientific cruise: 10 days.

Compulsory learning activities

All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to sit the exam.

  • Field excursions
  • Laboratory work
  • Scientific writing
  • One oral presentation


  • 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.
Percentage of final grade
Written exam 5 hours 35%
Practical exam 3 hours 30%
Final project report (written)  35%

Student life

Ghost shrimp on kelp on the ocean floor.
Ghost shrimp on kelp on the ocean floor. Photo: Geir Johnsen/UNIS.
Sorting fish onboard
AB-321/821 students sorting the day’s catch during their course cruise. Photo: Fredrik Broms/Akvaplan-niva
An Atlantic cod hiding in a cove at 35 m depth by the Kvadehuken. Photo: Bjørn Gulliksen/UNIS.
An Atlantic cod hiding in a cove at 35 m depth by Kvadehuken. Photo: Bjørn Gulliksen/UNIS.