Iceland

Climate Change and the Arctic

Study the impact of climate change on Arctic ecosystems and societies. Visit renewable energy centers, glaciers and awe-inspiring scenery in Iceland and Finland.

At a Glance

Credits

16

Prerequisites

Relevant previous coursework

Courses taught in

English

Dates

Feb 15 ‎– May 26

Program Countries

Iceland

Program Excursion Countries

Finland

Program Base

Ísafjörður

Critical Global Issue of Study

Climate & Environment

Climate & Environment Icon

Overview

Why study climate change in Iceland?

The power of nature is evident in Iceland. Here you’ll study the causes of climate change and its impacts on the critical environment of the Arctic and the entire planet. Witness the astonishing beauty of glaciers, volcanoes, fjords, geothermal fields, highlands, lava flows, rugged coastline, and waterfalls. On excursions to Iceland’s remote Westfjords region and Finland, you’ll see the impact of global warming on glaciers and ice sheets. Observe ground zero of climate change amidst stunning landscapes while learning about renewable technologies that can help slow the damage.

Learn about climate models and carbon management from experts on the front lines of the fight against global warming. Fieldwork will introduce you to scientific methods, data collection and ethical issues related to climate research in Iceland. At the same time, you’ll live with an Icelandic family in Ísafjörður, a remote town of deep blue fjords and flat-topped mountains seldom visited by tourists.

Highlights

  • Explore Reykjavik, Iceland’s dynamic capital.
  • Study at the University Center of the Westfjords in northwestern Iceland.
  • Visit the deserted village of Hesteryri and the geothermal valley of Haukadalur.
  • Spend 10 days in Finland, including Rovaniemi, the official home of Santa Claus.

Prerequisites

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.

Excursions

Finland

During a 10-day trip to Finland, you’ll explore the impact of climate change in the critical environment of the Arctic — the “refrigerator” that helps cool the planet. You’ll visit Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus and the capital of Lapland. Experience the Northern Lights and cross into the Arctic Circle.  At the University of Lapland’s Arctic Center, you’ll meet with experts to learn about indigenous issues, Arctic governance and cooperation, environment, and the changing economy. In Helsinki, you’ll learn about Finnish energy production and practical adaptations to the changing climate.

Iceland

In Iceland, you’ll be on the move studying the impact of global warming on glaciers and ice sheets while discovering the country’s changing climate and renewable energy technologies. Breathtaking landscapes abound. Excursions include Geysir, a geyser that’s been active for 10,000 years and Akureyri, described as the capital of North Iceland. You’ll also visit highlands, waterfalls, black sand beaches, geothermal fields, rugged coastlines, fjords, volcanoes, and a deserted village in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.

Reykjavik

No study trip to Iceland would be complete without an excursion to Reykjavik, on the coast of Iceland and the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world. It’s also one of the cleanest, greenest, and safest cities in the world. Settled in 874 AD, Reykjavik means “smoky bay” due to the steam rising from hot springs. During your visit, you may visit the national museum, tracing Iceland’s Viking history.

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

Academics

Coursework

Access virtual library guide.

Participants in this program develop knowledge of how climate change is impacting the animal, plant, and human communities of Iceland and Finland 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 and Finland’s social and political context and independently or in small groups 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 Finnish and examine the ways in which these languages reflect the socio-cultural identities of the places they are spoken.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course information, including course codes, credits, overviews, and syllabi.

Key Topics

  • Overview of Arctic climate, landforms, and ecosystems and human interaction
  • Consequences of climate change and preventing negative impact
  • Scientific methods, data collection, and ethics of climate research
  • Indigenous knowledge of changes in climate
  • Consequences of climate change and ideas for solutions

Climate Modeling and Carbon Management

Climate Modeling and Carbon Management – syllabus
(ENGR3000 / 3 credits)

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 University of Lapland’s Arctic Centre in Rovaniemi, Finland.

The Arctic: Changing Ecosystems and Resilience

The Arctic: Changing Ecosystems and Resilience – syllabus
(ENVI3000 / 3 credits)

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 Helsinki and Rovaniemi, Finland, at the University of Lapland’s Arctic Centre. You will meet with experts on the topics of indigenous issues, Arctic governance and cooperation, environmental issues, and the changing Arctic economy.

Research Methods and Ethics in the Arctic

Research Methods and Ethics in the Arctic – syllabus
(ENVI3500 / 4 credits)

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

Research Project in Arctic Climate Protection – syllabus
(ISPR3000 / 6 credits)

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.

Potential project topics include:

  • Thinning of ice sheets and glacier retreat
  • Melting permafrost
  • Ecosystem carbon sequestration
  • Renewable energy
  • Arctic air pollution
  • Climate change impacts on traditional lifestyles
  • Communicating climate science
  • Arctic tourism and climate change
  • Invasive species proliferation and altered migration patterns caused by climate change

Homestays

Ísafjörður

Live with a family in Ísafjörður, the capital of the Westfjords region, for three weeks. Host families are usually close to the University Center of the Westfjords, offering easy access to your classes. Staying with an Icelandic family gives you insight into Icelanders’ everyday life, culture, and language. Discuss climate change, among other topics, with your hosts around the dinner table — a favorite Icelandic pastime. Try out your conversational Icelandic and improve your pronunciation with the help of your host family. Locals tend to be a little on the reserved side but also very kind and tolerant.

The Westfjords is known for its rich history steeped in folklore. For centuries, locals passed long dark winter nights telling stories, handing down tales and legends steeped in mysticism and magic from generation to generations. Ask your hosts in Ísafjörður to share some of their favorites with you.

A town of 2,500, Ísafjörður serves as an urban center for the remote Westfjords, offering services such as a hospital, schools, cafes, museums and art venues. Your host family will be a great source of information about local hikes and hot springs.

Other Accommodations

When on excursions, including Finland, you will stay at hostels.

Career Paths

Relevant career paths:

  • Climate research

  • Public policy

  • Climate modeling and environmental planning

  • Climate impact, vulnerability, and adaptation research

  • Field monitoring station management

Faculty & Staff

Iceland: Climate Change and the Arctic

Daniel P. Govoni, PhD Candidate
Academic Director
Alex Tyas, MS
Program Assistant

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