AG-826 Arctic Quaternary Environments (10 ECTS)






April 15, 2024


November 04, 2024


Autumn semester (November 4th - week 50). Exact exam/end date TBA

AG-326/826 students studying glacier erosion. Photo: Anne Hormes/UNIS.

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:None
Course Capacity Min/Max:10/20 students (AG-326/826 in total)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

Course requirements

Enrolment in a PhD programme in Quaternary geology, glacial geology, physical geography or marine geology.

Academic content

The course will provide insight into the development of the Arctic through the Quaternary Period with emphasis on the interactions and feedbacks between, and evolution of, climate, the cryosphere, and the oceans across glacial and interglacial cycles. This will be achieved through literature studies, state-of-the-art lectures, student seminars, and discussions of the glacial histories of the Svalbard-Barents Sea, Greenland, Iceland, Arctic Canada, Alaska, Northern Russia, and Siberia. Whilst the course focuses on terrestrial archives, marine and ice core records will also be discussed in order to highlight environmental changes around the circumpolar North and to discuss causes of climatic change, feedbacks, and ice-ocean-atmosphere interlinkages.

The precondition for correlating different Quaternary records is a robust geochronology, thus recent developments in dating techniques like optically stimulated luminescence, cosmogenic nuclide exposure, and radiocarbon dating will be highlighted in case studies. Recent advances in ice-sheet modelling and studies of palaeo-ice dynamics and landscape development in the Arctic will also be discussed. The concept of distinctive ice dynamics and glacier regimes reflected in landform-sediment associations characteristic of cold-based low-erosive glacier ice and fast flowing ice streams will be studied.

Learning outcomes

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


  • describe in detail the large-scale Late Quaternary and Holocene glacial, climatic, and environmental changes in the Arctic
  • compare and contrast the Last Glacial Maximum ice sheets and their subsequent deglaciation and how ice sheet configurations have been reconstructed for various key Arctic regions
  • explain and critique causal links in the build-up and decay of high-latitude large ice sheets and justify these through a detailed understanding of natural palaeoclimatic variations
  • describe in detail the evolution and history of key concepts and paradigm shifts within Arctic glacial and climate science and describe and critique the major challenges in current Arctic palaeoglacial and palaeoclimatic research
  • describe, explain, and critique at an advanced level, certain “hot” topics in Arctic Quaternary science (theme will vary between individual years), such as “Little Ice Age in the Arctic”, “Fingerprints of the Anthropocene in the Arctic”, “Chronological challenges in the Arctic”, “modelling Arctic ice sheets”, etc.


  • analyse, critically assess, and generate detailed hypotheses from large datasets that are the basis of important syntheses on the development of the Arctic glacial and climate systems through time
  • communicate, analyse, and critique extensive works in Quaternary and palaeoclimate research through the application and mastery of Quaternary and palaeoclimatic terminology
  • formulate, outline, and hypothesise outstanding research questions
  • formulate and present complex overviews on key topics and take lead roles in group discussions, analysing and reflecting on outstanding questions concerning regional Quaternary palaeoenvironmental developments
  • reflect upon and challenge established knowledge and paradigms
  • provide mentorship, constructive criticism, and guidance on complex Quaternary and palaeoenvironmental subjects to more junior scholars.

General competences

  • identify and formulate new relevant research questions, critically discuss and assess glacial and palaeoclimatic reconstructions from literature, and develop alternative hypotheses
  • demonstrate a familiarity with current conceptual thinking in Quaternary geology
  • debate, criticise, and explain existing reconstructions of Arctic glacier and palaeoclimate development, and identify areas where more research is needed
  • describe, analyse, and reflect upon important research questions and themes, both orally and in writing, at international standards
  • take initiatives in discursive, research, and field settings and exercise academic leadership.

Learning activities

The course extends over 1+5 weeks including compulsory safety training and is run in combination with AG-326.

The course will have a theoretical part with lectures, literature studies and discussion seminars, and up to four excursion days, depending on weather conditions. Prior to the course, the students must prepare (approximately one week of full-time study) for the excursion days by reading primary literature that will be sent to them in advance. The excursions will give the students an opportunity to experience glacial sediments, stratigraphies and landforms.


  • Total lecture / class room activity hours: 30 hours.
  • Total exercise hours:  12 hours.
  • Total seminar hours: 16 hours.
  • Excursion: 1–4 days.

Compulsory learning activities

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

  • Take part in planning and leading one seminar
  • Active participation in all seminars and excursions
  • Make weekly short reports


  • 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 assessedDuration
Percentage of final grade
Key concept oral examK1-5, S1-6, C1-520 minutes40%
Written take-home examK1-5, S1-6, C1-5 48 hours60%

Student life


In front of Nordenskiöldbreen Svalbard
AG-326/826 students studying glacier erosion. Photo: Anne Hormes/UNIS.