AG-204 The Physical Geography of Svalbard (15 ECTS)






Autumn semester (August–November). Cancelled in 2023

Nordenskiöldbreen, September 2015. Photo: Solvik Photography (Espen Solvik)

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

60 ECTS within general natural science, of which 30 ECTS within the field of geology/geosciences. 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 AG-221 Arctic Physical Geographical Field Techniques (15 ECTS) and the courses are designed to complement each other.

Academic content

Svalbard’s location gives it strategic significance for gaining an interdisciplinary understanding of Arctic change. This course therefore helps to reveal the strength and direction of this change by introducing the most important meteorological, glaciological, geomorphological and hydrological processes that operate here.

The climatic conditions in Svalbard, energy exchange at the ground surface, ground thermal regime and the availability of water will be emphasized as essential factors controlling glacial and periglacial processes, as well as the landforms that result. Although the diversity of conditions across the whole archipelago will be made clear, particular attention will be given to the local environment, including its relationship with the Longyearbyen community.

Students will be expected to become familiar with the key data sets that describe the climate and state of the permafrost, glaciers and hydrological cycle across the Arctic. By comparing these data, students will better understand how Svalbard’s strategic significance results from its proximity to the major energy advection pathways that bring change into the high Arctic via the Fram Straight and Barents Sea.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will have:


  • broad knowledge of key topics, theories, processes, tools and methods within the physical geography of Svalbard
  • specific knowledge of the linkages between climate, meteorology, and ground thermal regime, and how these drive geomorphological and hydrological processes in Svalbard
  • awareness of variability in the state of the environment in Svalbard, and how it compares to other parts of the Arctic, as expressed through key monitoring data sets.


  • experiential understanding of a variety of glaciological, geomorphological and hydrological processes through field excursions and their integration with theoretical issues covered in lectures
  • practical experience accessing, processing and analysing key data sets collected in Svalbard and used to assess the state of the Arctic environment.

General competences

  • be able to apply academic knowledge and experience to understand how research problems of local, sometimes societal relevance, can be solved
  • be able to communicate important academic matters via written work, requiring bibliographic and analytical writing skills
  • be able to communicate important academic matters via oral presentations
  • develop group working skills in the contexts of both outdoor and indoor research tasks
  • be able to exchange opinions with experienced researchers and peers working on the course.

Learning activities

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

The course involves lectures, data exercises and field activities that provide a personal experience of working in the high Arctic. Collectively, these activities will emphasise meteorological, glacial, hydrological and permafrost process dynamics, as well as the landforms that result from their operation within the various geological settings that are present.


  • Total lecture hours: 35 hours.
  • Total exercise hours: Minimum 9 hours (at least three exercises).
  • Fieldwork: Minimum 6 days excursions.

Compulsory learning activities

All compulsory learning activities must be approved in order to be registered for the final assessment.

  • Fieldwork
  • Exercises
  • Exercise work presentations


  • 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 term paper50%
 Popular science article50%

Student life

Nordenskiöldbreen, September 2015. Photo: Solvik Photography (Espen Solvik)
Nordenskiöldbreen, September 2015. Photo: Espen Solvik/UNIS