Iceland and Greenland: Climate Change and the Arctic

Iceland and Greenland: Climate Change and the Arctic

Study climate models, methods of carbon management in Iceland and Greenland, and the impact of climate change on Arctic ecosystems and society. Develop insights into climate change challenges through excursions to Greenland, renewable energy centers, glaciers, and Iceland's many unique landscapes.

Over the last few decades, the Arctic has been the region that has warmed most in the world and data confirms that Arctic warming has caused changes to sea ice and snow cover. Scientists have warned that Arctic amplifications may lead to feedback effects that will cause further warming to the planet. The rapid and interactive change in Arctic climate, biology, and society prompt a number of research questions: How will these changes—from a potential rise in sea level to accessibility to resources that have until recently been hidden under ice—affect the rest of the globe? How are Arctic communities adjusting to these changes? What could we learn from their behavior? How do we develop solutions to the problems caused by climate change?

Major topics of study include:

  • The impact of climate change on Arctic ecosystems and human communities
  • Climate modeling and trends
  • Renewable energy in Iceland
  • Carbon management
  • Indigenous knowledge of changes in climate
  • Communicating climate change and science

Study climate change in the Arctic within environmental, sociocultural, and economic contexts.

Program Base in the Westfjords

IcelandThe program is based in the fishing town of Ísafjörður where you will stay with Icelandic families and study at the University Centre of the Westfjords. During the time in the Westfjords, you will be surrounded by Iceland's famous steep fjords and glacial valleys.

Study Climate Change in a Critical Location

You will gain comprehensive knowledge of climate change and its impact on Arctic ecosystems and human communities; you will then integrate that knowledge into systems analysis, addressing the environmental, political, and economic impacts of climate change. Coursework provides you with the background knowledge to study and analyze climate change in the Arctic and to develop your own research projects.

Coursework includes:

  • An overview of Arctic climate, landforms, ecosystems, and how humans interact with the landscape. You will analyze the influence of climate change on animal, plant, and human communities.
  • An introduction to climate modeling. You will learn to understand climate trends and create climate models.
  • Firsthand exposure to renewable energy systems. You will gain insider access to the workings of renewable energy systems and to the individuals who design, maintain, and make decisions about them in the context of Iceland. 
  • Field work that introduces you to scientific methods, data collection, and the ethics of conducting climate research in Iceland.
  • Debate over the consequences of climate change. You will critique climate change issues holistically and assess the impacts of causes and solutions from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Research Project in Arctic Climate Protection

You will pursue your own interests within climate change by conducting an original research project with support from program faculty and partners in Iceland. Particular emphasis will be placed on real-world relevance, interdisciplinary perspectives on climate change, and connecting with current research in Iceland. 

Potential project topics include:

  • Thinning of ice sheets
  • Melting permafrost
  • Ecosystem carbon sequestration
  • Renewable energy
  • Arctic air pollution
  • Climate change impacts on traditional lifestyles
  • Communicating climate science

Learn Conversational Icelandic and Greenlandic Languages (Non-Credit Bearing)

Language study facilitates immersion into the local culture. You will study conversational Icelandic and West Greenlandic through a fun and active approach. Stories and literature from Viking and modern eras put Icelandic and Greenlandic identities in context.

Immersion in Icelandic and Greenlandic Cultures

You will go on excursions to experience Iceland’s and Greenland’s remarkable natural features as well as its proudest cultural and historical accomplishments, including: 

  • UNESCO World Heritage site at Thingvellir – a rift valley between tectonic plates and an ancient parliament site
  • Downtown Reykjavík – a modern cultural center 
  • Geysir – the original geyser 
  • Sólheimar eco-village 
  • The deserted village Hesteyri in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve 
  • Haukadalur – the setting of Gísla saga Súrssonar, one of the famous Icelandic Sagas
  • Historic “Old Nuuk” – a neighborhood of Nuuk, the capital of Greenland
  • Mother of the Sea Monument
  • The Katuaq Cultural Center


Previous college-level coursework or other preparation in engineering, earth sciences, sustainability, environmental policy, sociology, biology, geology, geography, chemistry, archaeology, and/or environmental science/studies.

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Participants in this program develop knowledge of how climate change is impacting the animal, plant, and human communities of Iceland and Greenland as well as the rest of the globe. Students study climate change from scientific and indigenous perspectives, examine trends in climate modeling, and learn about carbon management and renewable energy in Iceland. They gain an understanding of the role climate change plays in Iceland’s social and political context and independently or in small groups to apply their knowledge and explore solutions to preserving the Arctic climate. 

In addition to coursework on climate change and research methods and ethics, students learn conversational Icelandic and West Greenlandic languages and examine the ways in which the languages reflect the socio-cultural identities of the nations. 

Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.

The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.

Climate Modeling and Carbon Management – syllabus
(ENGR3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
This seminar focuses on the analysis and use of climate models in understanding and projecting climate change in the future. Though climate models are based on quantitative data and physical principles and have been proven to reproduce climate projections, they are constantly subjected to more systematic evaluation for higher fidelity. Estimates based on climate variables such as temperature and cloud or cryospheric feedbacks provide high credibility for scientific climate change projections. Though a reliable model of metrics for climate projections is yet to be developed, interactive aerosols are now included in most climate models and substantial progress has been made in the areas of computational methods and the simulation of modes of climate variability. The seminar also addresses issues of gas emission, carbon containment, and management. The focus is on Iceland’s innovative experiments with carbon storage and the development of renewable energies. The seminar relies on resources available through program partners including University Centre of the Westfjords, University of Akureyri, University of Iceland, and the Nuuk Institute at Greenland University.
The Arctic: Changing Ecosystems and Resilience – syllabus
(ENVI3000 / 3 credits / 45 hours)
The Arctic, a region of major importance to the world, is changing rapidly. This seminar makes the effects of climate change in this unique part of the world a subject of discussion. It addresses the conditions of change in the Arctic, spanning ecological, social, and political-economic contexts. The seminar also considers community adaptation to the changing environment around them. Sessions will take place in different parts of Iceland in cooperation with program partners and working groups of the Arctic Council, as well as in Nuuk, Greenland, at the Greenland Institute of Natural Science. Students will learn from experienced scientists, competent instructors, and experts of the Arctic Council.
Research Methods and Ethics in the Arctic – syllabus
(ENVI3500 / 4 credits / 60 hours)
In this seminar, students are introduced to recent research on climate change. Students become familiar with the methodologies employed in natural and social science research on climate change as well as in renewable energy and sustainability studies. Students select and analyze relevant issues surrounding climate change in the Arctic, including its impact on ecosystems and human communities, in consultation with program faculty. Students will work independently or in small groups to research and identify an existing problem related to climate change in the Arctic and produce a research proposal for their Research Project in Arctic Climate Protection. This course gives students the opportunity to engage on a deeper level with the topics covered in the seminars and to develop their academic and research skills. Support is provided throughout the course by program faculty, particularly in aiding students in finding resources and Research Project in Arctic Climate Protection advisors in Iceland.
Research Project in Arctic Climate Protection – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 6 credits / 180 hours)
The Research Project in Arctic Climate Protection should provide a design for the protection of Arctic climate through a renewable energy, behavioral practice, or a creative method/approach to track climate change in the Arctic. Students have the opportunity to work independently or in small groups on their projects. Another aim of the Research Project in Arctic Climate Protection is to build collaborative partnerships with local scientific and indigenous communities for the enhancement of innovative approaches to climate change.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Exploring the Geology underneath Iceland’s Energy

The program is conceived and designed as a mobile and nomadic platform with temporary homes across Iceland and Greenland. In Greenland, you will explore the impact of climate change in the critical environment of the Arctic, thought of as the “refrigerator” that helps cool off the rest of the planet. In Iceland, you will travel to study the impact of global warming on glaciers and ice sheets and enjoy Iceland’s stunning landscapes, changing climate, and renewable energy technologies.

Excursions typically include:

  • Nuuk, Greenland
  • Reykjavik, Iceland
  • Akureyri, Iceland
  • Solheimar, Iceland
  • Glaciers in Greenland and Iceland

In Iceland, where the program spends most of the time, you will explore astonishing glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, geothermal fields, highlands, lava flows, rugged coastline, and waterfalls. You will also experience the power of nature, which is evident in every aspect of this constantly transforming island. Witnessing Iceland’s various landscapes provides you with an essential understanding of how climate change is transforming, and will continue to impact, the country. 

Michael Honeth, Academic Director

Michael HonethMichael Honeth holds a master’s degree in marine management from Dalhousie University in Canada and teaches graduate-level marine ecology, resource management, and climate change adaption for small island nation states at the University Centre of the Westfjords in Iceland. The courses include a heavy emphasis on the scientific method and modeling, which he considers fundamental to a successful career as a scientist. Michael also taught geographic information systems at the undergraduate level at the University of the South Pacific and has hosted study abroad field trips in Belize for years. Between 1990 and 2008, Michael worked with Inuit in the Canadian High Arctic, first while performing geological surveys and later representing the Crown on environmental issues such as flooding, hunting and fishing, Aboriginal treaties, and healthcare—work that garnered him the highest award given to non-military civil servants: the Deputy Minister’s Award for Team Excellence. For the past eight years he has worked in the Pacific Islands and Caribbean on marine resource management, sustainable development, and protected areas. He is lead author of a textbook on tropical marine ecology and co-author of the climate change adaptation learning kit for the Micronesia Challenge. He has impeccable group dynamic and interpersonal skills, broad experience in risk assessment and group safety, and access to an academic network supporting the program theme at a high level. As a Scandinavian, Michael has a rich appreciation of the deeply rooted cultures shared by the Icelanders and Greenlanders and is keen to share his knowledge and experiences with the next generation of experts in the field of climate change and the Arctic.

Become a Part of Icelandic Culture and Community.

You will live with a host family in Ísafjörður, the capital of the Westfjords region, for eight weeks. Host families are likely located close to the University Centre of the Westfjords, where classes are held. 

Staying with an Icelandic family gives you insight into Icelanders’ everyday life, culture, and language. Additionally, by living with an Icelandic family, you can discuss issues of climate change with your hosts; having conversation around the dinner table is a favorite Icelandic pastime. The homestay is typically one of the most meaningful experiences of the program.

Ísafjörður is a town of about 3,000 people settled on a narrow spit of land in the fjord Skútulsfjörður; it is surrounded by mountains and the sea. The town is an urban center in the remote Westfjords, offering services such as a hospital, schools, cafés, and arts venues. 

Traditionally a fishing town, Ísafjörður has in the past few decades expanded into knowledge-based industries as well as nature-based tourism. Ísafjörður and the Westfjords are only visited by about two percent of tourists to Iceland and remain off the beaten track.

When on excursions, including in Greenland, you will usually stay at hostels and modest hotels.

Program Dates: Fall 2016

Program Arrival Date:  Aug 20, 2016

Program Departure Date:    Nov 29, 2016

The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.

Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.

Application Deadline:   May 1, 2016

SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.

Tuition: $16,900

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Changing ecosystems and resilience in the Arctic
    • Climate modeling and carbon management
    • Research methods and ethics in the Arctic
    • Conversational Icelandic and West Greenlandic languages
  • All fieldwork and educational excursions in Greenland and Iceland, including all related travel costs to Greenland
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for food)
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board: $6,600

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period. This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Ísafjörður), on all excursions including to Greenland, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period.
  • Homestay (eight weeks with an Icelandic family in Ísafjörður).
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly, through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

International Airfare to Program Launch Site

International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.

Visa Expenses: $ 465

Immunizations: Varies

Books & Supplies: $ 50

International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.

Discretionary Expenses

Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.

Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.


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