AB-827 Arctic Microbiology (10 ECTS)






February 15, 2023


June 20, 2023


July 25, 2023


Autumn semester (June-July), annually

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:Fieldwork, NOK 200–400 (1–2 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
Course Capacity Min/Max:10/20 students (AB-327/827 in total)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

UNIS contact person: Simone Lang

Course requirements

Enrolment in a relevant PhD programme in biology. Basic knowledge in microbiology and a completed bachelor programme in biology are required. Students with a relevant PhD topic in microbial ecology will be given preference.

Academic content

The course aims to provide PhD students in biology with a comprehensive knowledge of processes and mechanisms in Arctic microbiology. Theory sessions will cover Arctic microbial biodiversity (viruses, bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes), methods in Arctic microbiology (from classical microscopy, cultivations and physiology to modern biochemical, molecular and bioinformatics analyses), Arctic biogeochemistry and nutrient cycles (energy, metabolism, geomicrobiology, carbon and nitrogen cycling), Arctic microbial ecology (trophic structure, food webs, feeding relationships, energy transfers, colonization, establishment and evolution) and hot topics in Arctic microbiology (effects of climate change, environmental change, human impact, biogeography and microbial diseases).

Practical work is divided into three themes: detecting life at low levels, investigating new or unfamiliar Arctic environments, and investigating selection pressures in a range of Arctic environments. Fieldwork is focused on the wide variety of habitats for microbial life on Svalbard; a marine section (using research vessel to provide experience with CTD measurements, marine sediment sampling and a fjord transect) and a terrestrial section (using Polar Circle and minibus to access both inner and outer fjord soil, freshwater, snow, ice, glacier, and acid mine drainage sites). In situ experiments are also conducted within easy reach of UNIS.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students can:


  • understand the diversity of microbial life in the Arctic, forms, habitats types, interactions, and limits
  • know the factors which contribute to the growth and establishment of microorganisms in various cold environments
  • be up to date with the current literature and research in Arctic microbiology
  • contribute to the development of new theories, methods, interpretations, and forms of documentation in Arctic microbiology.


  • be familiar with laboratory techniques used in Arctic microbiology, and be aware of the methods’ limitations and scope
  • investigate and be able to illustrate the interaction of Arctic microorganisms with each other and their living environment
  • formulate problems, plan, and carry out research in Arctic environments.

General competences

  • understand the role of microorganisms in nutrient and biogeochemical cycling and know how to make detailed measurements
  • express an informed contribution to debate about the role of microorganisms in various environments
  • appreciate the role Arctic microbiology can play in the key scientific challenges of today
  • manage complex interdisciplinary projects and assignments.

Learning activities

The course extends over 1+5 weeks including compulsory safety training, and is run in combination with AB-327.

Prior to the course the students must read primary literature that has been sent to them in advance, they will be given a relevant research topic, and they must prepare for seminars (approximately 1 week of full-time study). The complimentary lectures, field and laboratory work will strengthen knowledge and practical skills.  Experience will be gained of experimental design and field work in extreme environments. See “Academic content” for further presentation of learning activities. Students will be required to complete a short independent investigation within the course and to submit a report of this investigation as part of their assessment.


  • Total lecture / seminar hours: 30 hours.
  • Laboratory work: 35 hours.
  • Fieldwork/excursions: 6 days (may include one overnight stay at one of the field sites).

Compulsory learning activities

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

  • Literature seminars
  • Field excursions
  • Laboratory work


  • 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
Literature seminar presentation (individual)10%
Project work; including planning and executing inquiry based research project, and physical poster (group work)40%
Oral exam (individual) 50%

Student life

Students at Linnèvannet
AB-327/827 excursion to Linnévatnet. Photo: Lise Øvreås/UNIS
Student fieldwork on a glacier
AB-327/827 fieldwork on a glacier. Photo: Lise Øvreås/UNIS