AG-340 Arctic Glaciers and Melt Season Dynamics (10 ECTS)






Autumn semester (August–September), every second year. Cancelled in 2023.

AG-340 excursion. Photo: Aga Nowak/UNIS.

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

Enrolment in a relevant master programme. Students should have general knowledge about glaciology and physical geography, like AG-204 The Physical Geography of Svalbard, or similar.

Academic content

Arctic climate changes dramatically affecting the entire water cycle. In this course you will learn how the High Arctic environment responses to continued increase in air temperature and precipitation. You will learn about glacier mass balance, thermal regime and glacier hydrology. Following the water cycle, we will show you how glacier recession influences freshwater runoff as well as sediment and solute transfer into marine environments. You will be shown the effects of warming climate onto ground thermal regime. In AG-340 we offer you knowledge and understanding of the environmental changes in the Arctic. We believe in learning through experience (and exploration) therefore, you will be engaged in multiple field-trips and fieldwork. You will also have the responsibility for designing and executing research under a watchful eye of experts in their fields.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • the current mass balance status of Arctic glaciers and ice caps in Svalbard
  • the thermal conditions that distinguish Arctic glaciers from their lower latitude counterparts and greatly influence process dynamics
  • the dynamics of glaciological, hydrological and biogeochemical processes that operate during the Arctic summer
  • the interactions between physical, chemical and biological processes within glaciers.


  • general fieldwork, including observational and recording skills in an Arctic outdoor environment
  • specific fieldwork techniques, including hydrological and glacier mass balance monitoring, ground penetrating radar, dye tracing and water/sediment sampling
  • analytical techniques, including laboratory analysis of glacial melt-waters, data processing and melt modelling
  • expeditionary-style fieldwork logistics for research in the Arctic.

General competences

  • organisational skills for effective and successful recording of field observations
  • design and implementation of research tasks as part of a team
  • safe implementation of outdoor research in a sometimes-extreme environment.

Learning activities

This course extends over 5 weeks, including compulsory safety training. Effective learning is achieved through:

  • day trips to understand Svalbard landscape, key features of Svalbard glaciers and their forefields
  • training in the use of GPR and setting up a hydrological monitoring station prior to field work
  • a 4-day research cruise: demonstrating how the integration of surface energy balance, dye tracing, ground penetrating radar and proglacial water monitoring can be used to understand glacier hydrology from a whole-system perspective. *Alternatively, field cruise may be substituted with a stay in Ny-Ålesund
  • at least one day trip by boat to areas not visited as part of the cruise and local trips to deepen the understanding and develop appreciation for heterogeneity of the Arctic environment
  • seminars, workshops and laboratory classes are run to support the fieldwork. Students are expected to collect and archive a quality-controlled, communal data resource to support all field reports. Guidance is therefore given for data processing and laboratory techniques, among others
  • a course essay and a comprehensive written field report based on the knowledge and data acquired through the course.


  • Total lecture hours: 16 hours.
  • Seminars: 12 hours (workshops with guest lecturers and fieldwork debriefings).
  • Laboratory classes: 11 hours (1 hour developing analytical skills, 4 hours geochemistry, 2 hours melt modelling, 2 hours radar data processing).
  • Fieldwork: minimum 3 day trips and a 4-day research cruise*

Compulsory learning activities

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

  • Fieldwork
  • Data analyses sessions.


  • 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.
  • Web quizz results from multiple quizzes that will be performed after each section of the course. Research paper that will be based upon data collected during fieldwork.
Percentage of final grade
Web quizzes20%
Research paper80%

Course blog 2019

Student life

AG-340 fieldwork in August 2016. Photo: Aga Novak/UNIS
AG-340 fieldwork. Photo: Aga Nowak/UNIS.
AG-340 students on excursion in Grønfjorden. Photo: Sebastian Sikora/UNIS.
AG-340 students on excursion in Grønfjorden. Photo: Sebastian Sikora/UNIS.