AT-305 Frozen Ground Engineering for Arctic Infrastructures (10 ECTS)






October 15, 2023


January 08, 2024


February 21, 2024


Spring semester (Block 1: Week 2-8)

Students woke up to frozen rivers and a thin layer of ice on the day they had planned the field trip. As a consequence, did their risk analysis change? Photo: Maria Philippa Rossi/UNIS

Grade:Letter grade (A through F)
Course Cost:Non
Course Capacity Min/Max:10/25 students
Credit reduction / overlap:AT-805 (10 ECTS) and AT-205 (10 ECTS)
Language of instruction:English
Examination support material:Bilingual dictionary between English and mother tongue

Course requirements

Enrolment in a relevant master programme. Knowledge in mathematics/statistics and mechanics/physics corresponding to an engineering bachelor level.

Academic content

Planning infrastructure and engineering structures in the Arctic is particularly challenging because of the technical constraints imposed by environmental characteristics such as low temperature, permafrost, winter darkness, isolation, and high construction and operation costs. In the course, models, laboratory techniques, and field measurements will be provided for study to gain competence in cold climate engineering.

Specific topics

  • Introduction to engineering challenges in the Arctic
  • Permafrost and geocryogenic conditions
  • Thermal and mechanical behavior of frozen ground
  • Geotechnical survey methods in permafrost regions
  • Laboratory investigations of frozen soils
  • Approaches for foundation design of infrastructures as buildings, roads, pipelines etc. in permafrost areas
  • General information about avalanches: types, release mechanisms, snow stability evaluation methods, avalanche protection.
  • Field investigations of snow for examination of avalanche risk

Learning outcomes

Successful students in this course will be able to identify key considerations, assess the strengths and weaknesses of different disciplinary approaches, and be able to marshal appropriate information to develop a targeted set of recommendations for sustainable engineering approaches in the Arctic.

Upon completing the course, the students will:


  • memorize the distribution of various permafrost conditions on the Earth, and describe cryogenic geological processes shaping general terrain features in cold regions
  • define the physical, mechanical, and thermal properties of frozen soils
  • classify types of foundations for infrastructure in the Arctic, approaches for construction, and calculation methods for foundations
  • discuss key topics of modern development in the Arctic: construction of pipelines, coastal erosion processes, and coastal protection
  • explain avalanche phenomena, mechanics of avalanche release, and protective structures.


  • operate laboratory testing of frozen soils for obtaining parameters of mechanical and     physical properties of frozen soils used in engineering practice for the design of structures in cold regions
  • execute field investigations of snow with a focus on the assessment of avalanche risk
  • implement finite element codes for calculation of thermal regime in frozen soils 
  • organize fieldwork with a focus on data collection, scientific instrumentation involved, and action plan for the in-situ experiment
  • experience with operation of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and data processing software

General competences

  • develop engineering approaches for the construction of infrastructure in the Arctic.

Learning activities

The course extends over 6-7 weeks, including compulsory safety training. Initially, students attend one week of compulsory Arctic survival and safety training (AS-101).

AT-305 is run in combination with AT-805 (PhD-equivalent of the course).

Learning activities consist of lectures, seminars, excursions, fieldwork for sampling frozen samples with subsequent laboratory work, and fieldwork devoted to snow investigations. Field and laboratory work will be performed in small groups to train teamwork skills. Through lectures, students will be introduced to the course’s academic content. Lectures are supplemented with assignments. During the field excursion, the students will investigate the different foundations of constructions presented in Longyearbyen.


  • Lectures: 30 hours
  • Seminars (students active): 20 hours
  • Laboratory work: 12 hours
  • Exercise hours: 8 hours
  • Excursions (students observing): 4 hours
  • Field work (students active): 14 hours
  • Report writing: 16 hours
  • Self-study and preparations: approx. 40 hours
  • Field work: 2-3 days

Compulsory learning activities

  • Seminars
  • Field work (The vicinity of Longyearbyen, Advent Valley, Longeyear glacier)
  • Assignments (Group project reports Geotechnical soil investigations and GPR)
  • Presentations

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


MethodDurationPercentage of final grade
Written exam4 hours100%

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.