Science & Research








An International Field Course Experience in Svalbard, Norway

Submitted by: Tonya Burgers
Supervisor: Tim Papakyriakou

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend a field course at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). It was an amazing and unforgettable experience - with the added bonus of providing me with useful skills and techniques that I will use throughout my Ph.D. program. As a Ph.D. student I study the carbonate chemistry of Arctic waters, specifically within Baffin Bay and Nares Strait (located between northern Canada and Greenland). At UNIS I participated in the field course “Chemical Oceanography in the Arctic”, which involved guest lectures by a number of prominent Arctic researchers from around the world, as well as six days of fieldwork, and hands-on laboratory work. My classmates and I learned about the cycling of various chemical species in the Arctic marine environment (such as nutrients, oxygen, carbon, and methane), and how to use these chemical species as tracers of physical and biological processes.

The highlight of the course was a 3-day cruise on board the Polarsyssel (the Governor of Svalbard’s ship), during which we collected seawater samples across six different fjords in western Svalbard.  The scenery was absolutely stunning, and we enjoyed it for hours as we worked on-deck, lowering a Niskin bottle overboard to collect sample after sample. We also took turns working in our on-board laboratory (inside a shipping container on the deck), analyzing samples as we collected them, and taking the opportunity to warm up. We even had two lectures take place on the ship, during cruising time between our sampling stations. I would say these were our most comfortable lectures of the course, as they took place in the lounge of the ship with comfy couches and snacks from the ship’s kitchen. The crew of the ship could not have been more welcoming to us.

After our fieldwork was completed, we quickly settled back in at UNIS and began trying to understand and interpret our new datasets. At this point the intensity of the course ramped up. Our class was divided into groups and tasked with drafting a research article on a specific topic, using both our data from this year, and datasets collected by classes in previous years. At the same time we still had regular lectures, and were provided with helpful workshops on scientific writing and various tools we could use to visualize and manipulate our data.

Reflecting back on my time in this course, it is apparent that the overall objective is to prepare young researchers for the remainder of their academic careers. We covered all the bases – how to prepare for and conduct fieldwork, how to collect and analyze seawater samples for a variety of chemical parameters, and how to examine and interpret the data to produce scientific articles. I would recommend a course at UNIS to any early-career Arctic researcher. The experience at UNIS is quite unique, from their hands-on approach to learning (every course has a field component), to being immersed in the Arctic environment you are attempting to understand.

I’d like to say a special thank you to the ArcticNet Training Fund, for providing me with monetary support to attend this field course. Without this support my attendance in this field course would not have been a possibility.

One of my classmates documented our fieldwork experiences in this video.
Video credit: Sebastian Menze

The town of Longyearbyen. Photo credit: Tonya Burgers.


The Polarsyssel with Tonya in front for scale. Photo credit: Kiyomi Holman.


Views from the bridge of Polarsyssel. Photo credit: Tonya Burgers.


Enjoying the beautiful views on the beach in Longyearbyen. Photo credit: Kiyomi Holman.