AG-221 Arctic Physical Geographical Field Techniques (15 ECTS)






Autumn semester (August–December), cancelled 2023

AG-338/838 students on fieldwork at Festningen. Photo: Maria Jensen/UNIS.

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 sciences, 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 course is approved into the applicant’s current study programme.

The course should be combined with AG-204 The Physical Geography of Svalbard (15 ECTS) and the courses are designed to complement each other.

Academic content

The course will focus on practical field measurement and mapping techniques essential for describing, analysing and communicating results of studies in Arctic landscapes. Techniques within glaciology, hydrology, glacial geomorphology and periglacial slope processes, as well as permafrost science and biogeochemistry will be introduced. Emphasis will be on formulating, designing and executing field campaigns in the Arctic to answer relevant research questions. This includes constructing sampling/data collection plans and methods and choosing sampling equipment to answer specific scientific questions like what, where, when and why, for detecting process activity and environmental changes.

During the course, students will gain experience in a variety of relevant state-of-the-art Arctic field measurement techniques within a range of fields, such as glaciological and hydrological monitoring, permafrost investigations and general drone photogrammetry and DEM construction through SfM technology. Students will also learn to independently plan and execute modern geomorphological- and surface sediment mapping from remote sensing set-up, through field data collection, to finished map product in an GIS computer environment, including deciding aim, scale and map language for geomorphological mapping campaigns aiming to detect and quantify environmental changes in the Arctic.

Students will use different software packages to post-process and analyse given or collected data to formulate and present a research synthesis in the form of a scientific poster and poster presentation of results.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • gain a thorough understanding of the origin of the High Arctic landscape and processes active within it today and in past times
  • gain a hands-on knowledge of a range of relevant field measurements and mapping techniques within glaciology, geomorphology, hydrology, biogeochemistry and permafrost sciences
  • learn how to plan, obtain in the field, process and present their own research results.


  • have gained experience in logistics and safety within Arctic research
  • know how to design and execute fieldwork in an Arctic landscape
  • know different measurement techniques in Arctic physical geography:
    • hydrological monitoring,
    • glacial mass balance measurements,
    • geomorphological mapping in field and in a ArcGIS environment,
    • slope process analysis in field and in a ArcGIS environment,
    • permafrost investigation in field and lab,
    • active layer monitoring,
    • SfM based construction of digital terrain models (DEM)
  • know how to choose suitable method to analyse and interpret measured point-data and remote sensing data
  • know how and where to search for relevant data for comparison of own results
  • know how to effectively present research technical results in poster and oral format.

General competences

  • carry out their own field research projects from formulation of a relevant research question, through initial research design, field work to gather point and areal covering data, analysis of physical samples, constructing of maps and presentation of results
  • utilize classic and new published scientific literature and maps to provide a broader context for their field areas and results
  • take advantage of data from long-term monitoring at the field sites and other archived data (e.g., old aerial photos) and thus contribute to understanding and sharing of knowledge on climatically driven geomorphological and environmental changes in the high Arctic.

Learning activities

The course extends over a full semester. Initially, students attend compulsory Arctic survival and safety training. This will be followed by introductory lectures. During the course, lectures will be followed by weekly field excursions and/or field work where students will be trained in field techniques and the use of monitoring and sampling instruments. Collected data (numerical, graphical or other) will form the basis of independent field research projects in groups (term projects), co-designed with the faculty mentors, and executed parallel to the scheduled activities.

The period from August to mid/late October (about 8 weeks) will be used for lectures, seminars, exercises and weekly field activities with focus on one general technique/field of research per week, in close coordination with themes in the course AG-204. The typical scheduled weekly workload-hours in this first course period are 4 lectures, 1–2 seminars, 2 exercises, 1 full field day and 1/2 computer/lab day for data analysis/synthesis.

After mid/late October the scheduled hours per week are reduced to allow for independent work on map production, term project data analysis and synthesis and production of maps and posters presenting research results.

During the course students will learn different practical field and mapping techniques within Arctic physical geography. Gained knowledge will be used in the course to formulate and carry out (under supervision) a small group monitoring/research project. The course will end with projects syntheses in a form of a public poster session and an oral examination.


  • Total lecture and seminar hours: 20 hours.
  • Total exercises/seminars: ca. 32 hours.
  • Total lab work: ca. 8 days.
  • Fieldwork/excursions: 8 full days of obligatory excursions, as well as between 2 and 10 days/part of days, of small group fieldwork in connection with individual term projects.

Compulsory learning activities

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

  • Field excursions
  • Fieldwork
  • Laboratory work
  • Student 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
Individual oral exam60%
Poster and oral poster presentation of group term project30%
Two individual geomorphological maps10%

Student life

Students at Festningen
Geology students on fieldwork. Photo: Maria Jensen/UNIS