AG-210 The Quaternary and Glacial Geology of Svalbard (15 ECTS)






August 14, 2023


November 17, 2023


Autumn semester (August–December), annually

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:Fieldwork, NOK 800 (4 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
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-211 Arctic Marine Geology and the two courses are designed to complement each other.

Academic content

The course provides insight into the Late Quaternary glacial history of Svalbard, introducing important methods in the fields of geomorphology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geochronology and how these can be applied to reconstruct past glaciers and ice sheets based on a unifying landsystems approach. Students are introduced to glacigenic, lacustrine, and raised marine landforms and sediments through field work, lectures, and laboratory exercises. Using examples from Svalbard and the wider Arctic, this course develops skills in the description and interpretation of terrestrial glacial and glacially-influenced records to reconstruct Arctic paleoenvironmental histories. Central to this course is a multiday field campaign in western Spitsbergen as well as several guided and self-lead field excursions where students will learn and practice important methods and techniques in Arctic geomorphology, stratigraphy, and sedimentology, and the description and recognition of Quaternary glacial landform-sediment associations. The analysis and interpretation of materials and data collected in the field will form the basis for student projects reconstructing past landscapes and processes.

Field activities will be coordinated with the AG-211 to highlight the links between terrestrial and marine Quaternary landsystems.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • be able to describe the general outline of Svalbard’s Late Quaternary glacial history within the broader context of Northern Hemisphere glacial-interglacial cycles
  • be able to describe important methods in glacial geomorphology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and Quaternary geochronology and how these methods can be applied to glacial reconstructions
  • be able to describe and classify Quaternary glacial landform-sediment associations
  • be able to identify major Quaternary lithofacies successions common to Svalbard.


  • be able to demonstrate competence in mapping glacial and associated landforms using a range of remote and in-field techniques
  • be able to plan and execute short independent self-guided fieldwork in a high Arctic environment
  • be able to effectively apply important field techniques in glacial sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geomorphology to generate interpretable data
  • be able to apply knowledge of glacial landsystems to interpret geochronologically-constrained palaeoenvironmental changes from specific real-world field examples.

General competences

  • be able to effectively present their own data, interpretations, and conclusions in the form of scientific reports and oral presentations
  • be able to competently self-assess their own field skills using a range of reflective and evaluative techniques
  • be able to demonstrate effective independent and team-working skills across a range of practical field and academic research environments.

Learning activities

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

The course consists of three primary components; 1) field school and independent fieldwork, 2) lectures and exercises, and 3) individual term projects, with the lectures and exercises divided into multiple thematic modules.

1) During the field school students will practice using state-of-the-art field techniques and collect data for term projects. At the end of the field school, students’ individual field notebooks will be evaluated to assess their acquisition of field method skills. Fieldwork will be carried out in small groups and each group will report on the findings in a written field report. Students will also undertake two short self-guided field excursions in the Longyeardalen-Adventdalen area, completing a combined group-authored assessed short field report.

2) The lectures and exercises are divided into thematic modules covering the fundaments of Quaternary glacial geology focusing on Svalbard and the Arctic while providing a grounding in core Quaternary science concepts. Thematic modules include: Glacial Landsystems & Geomorphology; Glacial Sedimentology & Stratigraphy; Holocene Terrestrial & Lacustrine Records; Quaternary Geochronology; Reconstructing Quaternary Ice Sheets.

3) The last part of the course will be scheduled for individual work on term projects. Each student is expected to define a research topic (with assistance from the course responsible) based on data collected during the field school. The project work is supervised one-on-one. Term projects will be presented through a written report in the format of a scientific paper and through an individual conference-style oral presentation in an auditorium in front of the class and the instructors. The presentations will be open to all students and staff at UNIS.


  • Total lecture hours: 34 hours.
  • Total exercise hours: 22 hours.
  • Total seminar hours: 13 hours.
  • Excursions: 3 daytrips from Longyearbyen
  • Fieldwork: 4 days field-school with overnight stay, plus 2 days self-guided independent fieldwork.

Compulsory learning activities

All compulsory learning activities must be accomplished and approved for the student to be registered for the final assessment.

  • Fieldwork, including excursions and self-guided activities
  • Laboratory exercises
  • Seminars


  • 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.
MethodLearning outcome assessed
Percentage of final grade
Field notebook assessmentK2-4, S1, C2-315%
Field reportK1-3, S1, S3, C1-320%
Self-guided field assignmentK2-3, S2-3, C1-315%
Term project; written reportK1-4, S1, S3, S4, C130%
Oral presentation of reportK1-4, S1, S3, S4, C120%

Student life

Students in the field
AG-210 fieldwork. Photo: Anne Hormes/UNIS.
AG-210 students take a break from fieldwork in Billefjorden.
Photo: Endre Før Gjermundsen/UNIS.