AGF-801 The Upper Polar Atmosphere (15 ECTS)






October 15, 2023


January 08, 2024


Spring semester (January 8th - May 3)

Aurora over the Kjell Henriksen Observatory. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/UNIS

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:None
Course Capacity Min/Max:8/16 students (AGF-301/801 in total)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue. Non-programmable calculator.

Course requirements

Enrollment in a relevant PhD programme in geophysics. General knowledge of basic atmospheric physics and/or electrodynamics. Priority will be given to students with knowledge of ionospheric / space physics or students who are enrolled in a study program focused towards ionospheric and / or space physics.

The course should be combined with AGF-804 Radar Diagnostics of Space Plasma. The two courses are designed to complement each other.

Academic content

This course describes the interactions between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosphere and the consequences of these processes for the ionized region of the upper atmosphere, i.e. the ionosphere. Energy, particles, and momentum transferred from the solar wind manifest themselves in the upper Polar atmosphere particularly as the aurora, but also in terms of powerful electric currents and wind systems (ion winds as well as winds in the neutral gas).

Central elements in this course will be descriptions of the Earth’s magnetic field, the magnetosphere, ionization processes and the formation of the ionosphere. The current system related to the coupling between the magnetosphere and the upper atmosphere/ionosphere, together with the generation and absorption mechanisms for waveforms and transport of electromagnetic energy will be described. Both particle and magneto-hydrodynamic descriptions of space plasma will be presented.

Data from instrumentation at the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) together with data from other ground-based instruments at different locations as well as satellite data will be used to analyse auroral emissions and current systems in order to understand how solar wind energy interacts with the upper polar atmosphere.

The project report will be set in connection with field work at the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO).

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • describe how the energy from the solar wind is deposited in the Earth’s magnetosphere/ionosphere system, and how this is related to physical processes observable from satellite and ground-based instrumentation
  • understand the difference in the type of measurements made by various optical instruments.


  • operate several optical instruments located at the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO), analyse this data, and put the data in context with other ground-based and space-based measurements; these instruments include a Meridian Scanning Photometer, Ebert Fastie Spectrometers and All Sky Cameras
  • absolute-calibrate optical instrumentation.

General competences

  • evaluate and analyse space physics data and relate the outcome to physical processes in the ionosphere
  • combine the data sets and relate the outcome to physical processes in the ionosphere, as well as presenting the results orally to their peers
  • understand what type of information that can be extracted from different types of optical instrumentation
  • extract scientific information from a research paper, and present the findings orally to their peers.

Learning activities

The course extends over a full semester and is run in combination with AGF-301. Initially, students attend one week of compulsory Arctic survival and safety training (AS-101).

The course starts with a combination of lectures and seminars to build a theoretical base. To train skills in operating and calibrating relevant optical instruments, students attend practical classes and perform field work at Kjell Henriksen Observatory during evening hours. Students develop an ability to analyse and evaluate space physics data by producing a project report. The report will thematically be connected to the field work at KHO.


  • Total lecture hours: 65 hours
  • Total seminar hours: 20 hours
  • Fieldwork: 30 hours

Compulsory learning activities

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

  • Fieldwork
  • Written report
  • Presentation of one scientific article


Percentage of final grade
Written exam5 hours100 %

Student life

Aurora seen from the Kjell Henriksen Observatory