AG-346 Snow and Avalanche Dynamics (10 ECTS)






October 15, 2022


March 06, 2023


April 14, 2023


Spring semester (March - Arpil), every second year.

Slush avalanche in Todalen, Svalbard, March 2011. Photo: Markus Eckerstorfer/UNIS

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:Field excursion NOK 400 (2 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

Enrollment in a relevant master programme. Preference will be given to students that have a background in snow and avalanche science and/or those who are working on a master thesis in snow and avalanche science.

Academic content

This course focuses on developing a theoretical and practical framework for observing, understanding, and mitigating hazards associated with snow avalanche processes in Svalbard and also snow-covered alpine areas. We will consider how physical processes control the development and metamorphosis of seasonal snow covers across a range of temporal and spatial scales and its influence on avalanche hazards. We put a particular emphasis on Svalbard’s unique high Arctic setting. Key theoretical components of this course include:

  • the physical properties of seasonal snow cover and its accumulation, redistribution, and metamorphism in Svalbard
  • climatological, meteorological, and topographical controls on snow and avalanche formation
  • release theory and mechanics
  • basics on avalanche dynamics

From this scientific framework, this course also emphasizes developing a practical and applied understanding of avalanche hazard mitigation strategies, including avalanche hazard mapping, run-out modeling, structural avalanche defense design and implementation, and avalanche forecasting.

This course has a specific focus on developing the skills necessary for safe, efficient, and robust snow and avalanche data collection in harsh winter conditions. Field activities will emphasize the collection of manual snow and avalanche observations to professional international standards and will introduce various modern remote sensing tools, data products, and verification strategies.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • have a comprehensive understanding of the physical processes influencing the seasonal snow cover and snow avalanche activity
  • understand the key processes and controls on Svalbard’s unique high-Arctic maritime snow avalanche climate
  • have knowledge of modern research techniques and best practice hazard mitigation strategies
  • understand how knowledge gained in this specific snow avalanche setting can be applied to other high-latitude or alpine regions.


  • safely perform manual snow and avalanche observations to an international standard
  • describe modern snow and avalanche research techniques and plan research using appropriate methodology
  • develop avalanche management and mitigation strategies for basic scenarios

General competences

  • be able to communicate scientifically and professionally about snow and avalanche science
  • be able to safely undertake fieldwork in avalanche terrain under harsh winter conditions
  • have the scientific competency to critically assess data and observations used in snow and avalanche research activity
  • be able to critically assess various avalanche hazard mitigation strategies
  • be able to apply the techniques, methods, and skills learned in this course to snow cover anywhere in the world

Learning activities

The course extends over ca 5 weeks including compulsory safety training.

The course will have a theoretical component with class-based lectures and seminars and a practical component comprised of excursions, fieldwork, and computer-based exercises. Excursions and fieldwork will emphasize understanding the regional snow and avalanche setting in the mountains around Longyearbyen and developing skills to observe snow and avalanche processes. The fieldwork and excursions will be subject to change based on snow, avalanche, and weather conditions. Ability to travel via skis or snowboard in mountainous terrain is beneficial for most field excursions.


  • Total lecture hours: 30 hours (10 of which will be in the field)
  • Total exercise hours: 20 hours
  • Fieldwork or field excursion: 8 days

Compulsory learning activities

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

  • Fieldwork
  • Field excursions
  • Field and laboratory exercises
  • Scientific paper 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
Field report2500 words 70 %
Written exam2 hours30 %

Student life

Skking in Svalbard
AG-346 students on their way to fieldwork. Photo: Erik Kuschel.
AG-346 student measuring snow profile. Photo: Erik Kuschel.
AG-346 student measuring snow quality. Photo: Erik Kuschel.