AGF-845 Polar Magnetospheric Substorms (10 ECTS)






April 15, 2024


November 04, 2024


December 13, 2024

AGF-345/845 students perfrom measurements of the aurora outside the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) on Breinosa in November 2010. Photo: Njål Gulbrandsen/UNIS.

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:None
Course Capacity Min/Max:8/16 students (AGF-345/845 in total)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

Contact person

Course requirements

Enrolment in a relevant PhD programme. Good knowledge of plasma physics and electrodynamics. Students enrolled in a space physics programme will be prioritized.

Academic content

This research course gives an overview of polar magnetospheric substorms, the primary process responsible for large-scale auroral breakups. A substorm is a transient event where a large amount of energy is deposited in the high-latitude ionosphere. On the ground, this is typically manifested in the form of intense aurora and disturbances in the geomagnetic field. This course provides a historical overview of substorm research and introduces the terminology and models that are used to explain the phenomenon. Key elements in the chain of interactions that constitute a substorm as well as recent developments in the field of research are discussed.

Covered topics include solar wind – magnetosphere coupling, magnetic reconnection, energy accumulation and storage, energy release and introduction to plasma instabilities that are thought to be responsible for the triggering of substorms. Also discussed are the auroral acceleration region, ionospheric effects of substorms and energy budget. The course consists of a combination of lectures, exercises and a project work. Measurements obtained at the Kjell Henriksen Observatory (KHO) and/or EISCAT Svalbard radar station form the basis of a written report.

Learning outcomes

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • be able to describe the main features and evolution of magnetospheric substorms
  • know the most important processes involved, including basic reconnection theory
  • be familiar with fundamental substorm models
  • be familiar with the terminology used in discussing polar magnetospheric substorms.


  • be able to analyse data from a suite of ground and space instruments and use this data to identify substorm evolution and processes
  • be able to estimate the energy conversion in the various substorm stages and estimate the total energy budget of a substorm
  • be able to undertake a study of a substorm event.

General competences

  • be able to perform an independent investigation of a substorm
  • present the result of this investigation in the form of a written report.

Learning activities

The course extends over ca. 5 weeks including compulsory safety training and is run in combination with AGF-345.

Four essential components ensure effective learning:

  1. Focused lectures given by specialists in their fields.
  2. Solving exercises related to the lectures. Students prepare and present solutions to these exercises.
  3. Visit to the Kjell Henriksen Observatory and/or the EISCAT Svalbard radar station where students are introduced to instrumentation used for substorm research.
  4. Prepare and present a seminar on recent updates in substorm research.

Based on the observations obtained during the course period, the students will have approximately 10 days to investigate a substorm event and prepare a project report or science proposal which will assess the student’s skills in project management, data analysis and science writing.

Note that AGF-845 is a full-day course, with lectures in the morning and discussions / exercise solving in the afternoon. This course should not be combined with other UNIS activities.


  • Total lecture hours: Ca. 40 hours.
  • Total exercises: Ca. 25 hours.
  • Excursion: The Kjell Henriksen Observatory and/or EISCAT Svalbard Radar; 1–2 days.

Compulsory learning activities

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

  • Excursions
  • Preparing and presenting a seminar


  • 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
Written report 50%
Oral exam45 minutes50%