Arctic Geology research at UNIS

The research vision of the UNIS Arctic Geology Department focuses on Svalbard, its fjords and adjacent shelf that together offer an excellent opportunity to study a wide range of landforms, processes, sediments and structures related to the development of the Barents Shelf and infill of sedimentary basins.

Go to currect geology research projects

As an area of terrestrial outcrop on the Barents Shelf, Svalbard provides excellent access to a vast range of basin settings, from the low-latitude infill of the Devonian basins, to the present glacial and periglacial erosion and infill of valleys and fjords.

The UNIS Arctic Geology Department performs research within six subjects in Earth Science:

  • Marine geology
  • Quaternary geology
  • Permafrost and periglacial geomorphology
  • Glaciology
  • Sedimentology
  • Structural geology

The stratigraphy in Svalbard stores long-term records of environmental changes. Its geological history spans >380 million years, that comprises a fairly continuous succession of Precambrian metamorphic rocks, to Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rocks, as well as Tertiary to Quaternary strata.

Svalbard exhibits exceptionally well-exposed, large sections. On the slopes of glacially eroded fjords and valleys there occur up to 1000 m high and several km long and continuous sections. These facilitate studies of geological evolution of large-scale structural elements and tectonic controls, fold-and-thrust belt developments, basin analysis and sequence stratigraphy, hydrocarbon formation and changes in the sedimentary environment through time.

The Quaternary strata, both offshore and with numerous inshore sites exposing interglacial-glacial marine and glacial sediments, offers opportunities to study the Late Quaternary development of climate and glaciation. The geological archives store information on past glacial and climatic oscillations and related sea-level changes.

Svalbard, with its extensive (>60%) glacial cover, is a natural laboratory for studying present-day glacial processes, permafrost, periglacial processes and linkages between climate, glaciers and geomorphic/ geological processes. Studies of the glacial and periglacial land system in Svalbard, associated processes, dynamics and products, provide modern analogues to glacial environments during past glaciations at lower latitudes.

The Svalbard natural climatic and glacial system, is sensitive to environmental changes. Svalbard’s geographical location, at the northernmost end of the North Atlantic Drift, makes it extremely sensitive to regional North Atlantic climate changes. One incitement for studying environmental changes in Svalbard, past and present, is that comprehension of its environmental history is necessary for understanding present and future trends.

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Current research projects:

UNIS CO2 Lab, Svalbard. Photo: Ragnhild Rønneberg/UNIS.
UNIS CO2 Lab in Adventdalen. Photo: Ragnhild Rønneberg/UNIS


Political and public awareness related to the mission of a CO2-free Svalbard requires a first assessment of possible subsurface storage sites; can we store CO2 in the sedimentary rocks below Longyearbyen? The proposed study concentrates on this question, following several integrated lines of research.

The UNIS CO2 Lab was established as a subsidiary company of UNIS on 1 January 2012.

Glasiologknausen, Svalbard. Photo: Anne Hormes/UNIS
Glasiologknausen, Svalbard. Photo: Anne Hormes/UNIS

Reconstruction of the Weichselian Ice Sheet and the last deglaciation in Svalbard (Icebound)

The goal of the project is to develop a new model of glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA) of Svalbard and predict the Neogene tectonic uplift integrating new data of former ice sheet configuration in the Pleistocene. The research incorporates for the first time the multiple ice dome ice sheet configuration and its deglaciation in Svalbard. Calculated post-glacial uplift data will be integrated from Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zemlya and the tectonic uplift of Svalbard will be estimated.

Icebound 2012–2016 is funded by the ConocoPhilips Arctic Research Program.

Contact person: Anne Hormes

Kronebreen, Svalbard. Photo: Monica Sund/UNIS
Kronebreen, Svalbard. Photo: Monica Sund/UNIS

SVALI (Stability and Variations of Arctic Land Ice)

SVALI is a part of the Top-level Research Initiative (TRI), which is a major Nordic collaborative venture for studies of climate, energy and the environment.

The NCoE SVALI takes on the task to answer these key questions:

  • How fast is land ice volume in the Arctic and North-Atlantic area changing, and why?
  • Will these processes continue to accelerate?
  • What are the consequences for sea-level and ocean circulation
  • What are the implications for society?
SVALI project page
Kvalhovden. Photo: Snorre Olaussen/UNIS
Exposed Lower Cretaceous deltaic and shelf deposits along the sea cliff at Kvalhovden, East Spitsbergen. This regressive transgressive mega cycle belongs to the southwards prograding clastic wedge in the north western corner or the Eurasian plate. The summit is 344m. Photo: Snorre Olaussen/UNIS

LoCrA (Lower Cretaceous basins in the high Arctic)

LoCrA is a research consortium managed by the University of Stavanger (UiS)and the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) in cooperation with Norwegian mainland universities in Oslo, Bergen and Tromsø and internationally with University of Nebraska at Omaha, the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics, Austin (UTIG), the Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), the University of Copenhagen and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS).The project is sponsored by 21 oil companies.
The main target is to improve the knowledge of the basin configuration and fill of the Lower Cretaceous basins in the high Arctic.

Following issues are addressed:

  • Plate reconstruction of the high Arctic during the Lower Cretaceous
  • Improved prognoses of coarser grained clastic wedges
  • Sequence and seismic stratigraphy and regional correlation of the Pan Arctic Lower Cretaceous.
  • Paleogeographic reconstruction
  • Improve the climate history in the High Arctic Lower Cretaceous
  • Better constrain of the volcanic events i.e. HALIP

Contact persons:
UNIS: Professor Snorre Olaussen
UiS: Professor Alejandro Escalona Varela


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