AG-215 Arctic Landforms and Processes (15 ECTS)






April 15, 2024


August 05, 2024


December 13, 2024

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:TBA
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.

Academic content

This course provides insights into the key Arctic land-forming processes and resultant landforms and sediments that characterise the Late Quaternary and modern environments of Svalbard. The course introduces important methods in physical geography, geomorphology, sedimentology, and stratigraphy and how these can be applied in the understanding of modern processes as well as reconstructing past Quaternary environments using a unified landsystems approach.

Learning outcomes

Students will develop skills in the description, measurement, and interpretation of glacigenic, fluvial, slope, periglacial, and coastal processes, landforms and sediments through field work, lectures, and laboratory exercises using examples from Svalbard and the wider Arctic.

Central to this course is a multiday field campaign in western Spitsbergen as well as several guided and self-lead field excursions and exercises where students will learn and practice important methods and techniques in Arctic physical geography, geomorphology, stratigraphy, and sedimentology, and the description and recognition of Quaternary landform-sediment-process associations. The analysis and interpretation of materials and data collected in the field will form the basis for student projects reconstructing and understanding past and present landscapes and processes.

This course builds primary competencies applicable to higher-level geoscience fields relevant to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: SDG06 Clean Water & Sanitation; SDG09 Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure; SDG13 Climate Action; SDG15 Life On Land.

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • Be able to describe the general outline of Svalbard’s modern physical environment and Late Quaternary history within the broader context of Northern Hemisphere glacial-interglacial cycles 
  • Be able to describe important methods and tools in physical geography, including geomorphology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, cartography, and how these methods can be applied to understanding modern and past processes and landscapes.
  • Be able to describe and classify modern and Quaternary Arctic landform-sediment-process associations.
  • Be able to describe the specific linkages between climate, meteorology, and ground thermal regime, and how these drive landforming processes in Svalbard.


  • Be able to demonstrate competence in mapping Arctic landforms and processes 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 physical geography, sedimentology, stratigraphy, and geomorphology to generate interpretable data.
  • Be able to apply knowledge of Arctic landsystems and processes to interpret past and recent environmental 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.
  • Have an understanding of applicable landscape ethics and behave responsibly in the field in reference to sampling impacts and landscape integrity.

Learning activities

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

The course consists of three primary components spanning the semester, with the lectures and exercises divided into multiple thematic modules:

1) field school and independent fieldwork:

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 will be assessed on their field methods skills through the evaluation of their field notebooks. Fieldwork will be carried out in smaller groups and each group will report on the findings in written field reports. Students will also undertake several short self-guided field excursions in the Longyeardalen-Adventdalen area, completing individually assessed short field reports.

2) lectures and exercises:

The lectures and exercises are divided into thematic modules covering the fundamentals of physical geography and Quaternary geology focusing on Svalbard and the Arctic. These thematic modules provide a grounding in core process and landsystem-focussed concepts and critical techniques and approaches. Thematic modules include: Glacial Systems; Fluvial and Glacifluvial Systems; Arctic Slope Systems; Periglacial Systems.

3) individual term projects:

Course time will be scheduled for individual work on term projects. Each student will develop a research topic consistent with the course learning outcomes and based on data collected during fieldwork. The project work is supervised one-on-one. Term projects will be presented through a written report in the format of a scientific paper or conference-style poster 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.


  • Lectures: 25 hours
  • Seminars (students active): 10 hours
  • Laboratory work: 15 hours
  • Exercise hours: 10 hours
  • Excursions (students observing): 4 days
  • Field work (students active): 3 days
  • Work on field/lab logs, reports, assignments during course period at UNIS: 5 days
  • Self-study and preparations: 40 hours

Compulsory learning activities

Fieldwork, including excursions and self-guided activities, laboratory exercises, seminars. All compulsory learning activities must be accomplished and approved for the student to be registered for the final assessment


MethodDurationPercentage of final grade
Field skills assessment 15%
Field report15%
Self-guided field assignment 20%
Term project presentation20%
Term project written report30%

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.