AG-348 Arctic Late Quaternary Glacial and Marine Environmental History (10 ECTS)






Autumn semester (August–September), annually. Cancelled in 2023.

Ship in Brepollen, Hornsund. Illustration photo: Eva Therese Jenssen/UNIS.

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:Fieldwork, NOK 1600 (8 days x NOK 200 per overnight stay)
Course Capacity Min/Max:10/20 students (AG-348/848 in total)
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 a fundamental understanding of glacial sedimentology and stratigraphy, or AG-209, AG-210 or AG-211 or equivalent.

The course is intended for master students in glacial and Quaternary geology, marine geology and physical geography. It links to AG-326 and AG-342, and students who have accomplished or applied for these courses will be given preference.

Academic content

The course takes advantage of relatively easy access from UNIS to the fjords and field sites around Svalbard. Students’ ability to interpret the geological-geomorphological fingerprints of former ice masses is the key to understanding the past interactions between the Earth climate system and the cryosphere. After training in Arctic field safety, the course starts with introductory lectures on Svalbard geology and history of concepts concerning the Late Quaternary Svalbard-Barents Sea glaciations.

Postglacial sea level change and glacioisostatic rebound history across Svalbard will be reviewed. The various types of subaerial and submarine glacial landforms, their dimensions, geometry, structure and distribution patterns, as well as how these parameters can be used to reconstruct the glacial sedimentary environments will be discussed. Students are introduced to important Arctic sediment types and lithofacies, the logging techniques as well as chronological challenges in the Arctic. The key processes and products of glacial marine and terrestrial sedimentation from the glacier margins to their distal setting in the submarine as well as subaerial settings will be covered.  Acoustic and sedimentological methods used to collect data in glacial and marine environments will be reviewed as well.

The uniqueness of this course lies in that students get field training in working with both terrestrial and marine archives.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will have good understanding of Late Quaternary stratigraphical successions on Svalbard and the Arctic, broad knowledge of Svalbard and Arctic geomorphology and landscape evolution on different temporal and spatial scales through glacial cycles, as well as an understanding of chronological and stratigraphic challenges on Svalbard and in the Arctic. They will have good understanding of evolution of high-latitude continental margins from the fjords to the continental slope in Late Quaternary and be able to critically analyze the geological records in the light of existing theories on Late Quaternary and current environmental changes.

Upon completing the course, the students will be able to:


  • identify, describe, and explain the Late Quaternary stratigraphical successions on Svalbard and the Arctic, where repeated sequences of glacial, glaciomarine, marine littoral, fluvial and slope sediments fingerprint glacial-interglacial cycles
  • identify, describe, and analyse major lithofacies and lithofacies associations, as well as landforms and landform assemblages encountered in glacial-deglacial sequences
  • describe and explain the glacial terrestrial and marine depositional environments and of the long-term climatic fluctuations between glacial and interglacial periods in the Arctic
  • describe and explain the structure and evolution of high-latitude continental margins from the fjords to the continental slope in Late Quaternary
  • critically analyse the geological records of fjords and formerly glaciated continental margins in the light of physical processes that have shaped them and formulate hypotheses from them.


  • apply advanced lithostratigraphical and sedimentological field techniques on terrestrial and marine records
  • map/log complex terrestrial and marine stratigraphical sequences and carry out an independent research project using state-of-the art field methods, as well as recording observations in accordance with high academic standards
  • analyse and interpret field data, discussing findings and formulating hypotheses in the context of current theories and ideas on Quaternary glacial history
  • perform integrated spatial and temporal analysis of terrestrial and submarine stratigraphic records and glacial landform assemblages
  • interpret the extent and dynamics of former ice masses and reconstruct the glacial and marine sedimentary processes and environments based on the above-mentioned analyses
  • demonstrate proficiency in Arctic survival and safety techniques.

General competences

  • master the most important elements of geological research projects: analyse and critique literature for status on studied area/objects, carrying out field research, analysing data and communicating results to fellow students/scientists, and be able to critically evaluate scientific literature and reports
  • present observations and interpretations in accordance with state-of-the-art protocols for data documentation and handling
  • communicate and discuss current academic concepts and theories and contribute new hypotheses regarding Quaternary environmental evolution in Svalbard and the Arctic
  • report findings and to formulate scholarly arguments when delivering lectures/seminars, reporting scientific finds, and presenting data
  • plan and execute expeditions in the Arctic
  • work independently as well as within a team.

Learning activities

The course extends over five weeks including compulsory safety training, and is run in combination with AG-848. In addition, students are required to spend approximately one week of preparations before coming to UNIS, to read key-literature and prepare a seminar presentation.

The initial lectures are followed by seminars, where each student participant gives an oral presentation on a selected subject concerning the glacial and climate history of Svalbard, based on in-depth study of the literature. Field school will be conducted during an 8–10 days cruise. Fjords and field sites visited will be different between years, but the overall aim is to visit areas where novel data can be collected from both marine and terrestrial archives. During the cruise, geological and geomorphological data will be obtained from various glacial marine and terrestrial environments. These data will be discussed aboard the vessel and in the following classroom exercises, if possible (subject to the timing of the cruise). Key sites on land will be visited for mapping stratigraphies and describing signatures of past glaciations (raised beaches, glacial morphology etc). The cruise will give students hands-on experience of various data collection and sampling procedures, under supervision.

The students will present their field results in the form of a scientific report delivered orally and via poster presentation. The data and observations collected during the fieldwork will be used to critically assess the validity of published interpretations of the Svalbard Late Quaternary glacial history. The group report will be completed during 1-2 weeks of supervised time at UNIS, after the field school (subject to timing of the cruise). The participants are offered individual tutoring and advice, where the supervising professors will discuss individual student’s competence development throughout the course.


  • Total lecture hours: 10 hours.
  • Total seminar hours: 12 hours.
  • Total exercise hours: 10 hours.
  • Total laboratory hours: 10 hours.
  • Total pre-assignments work: 15 hours.
  • Field excursion: Ca. 8–10 days.

Compulsory learning activities

All compulsory educational activities must be approved in order to be registered for the final assessment.

  • Active participation in seminars
  • Lab exercises
  • Fieldwork


  • 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 assessedPercentage of final grade
Pre-excursion presentationsK1, K3, K4, S4, S5, C1, C3, C625%
Group field report in form of oral presentation and poster presentationK2, K5, S1-5, C1-675%