Course Syllabus


Polar Biology B

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Semester & Location:

Spring 2023, DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

Core Course - 3 credits

Study Tours:

Akureyri, Iceland

Major Disciplines:

Biology, Environmental Science, Sustainability


One course in environmental or earth science at university level. One course in biology or ecology at university level is recommended.

Faculty Members:

Jannik Hansen (current students please use the Canvas Inbox)

Time & Place:

Monday and Thursday 8:30-9:50

Classroom N7-A21



Course Description

In this course we will provide you with an understanding and introduction to the biology of the Polar regions with a specific focus on the Arctic regions in northern Scandinavia and specifically northern Norway/northern Iceland and Greenland. These Arctic regions are sensitive to climate variations and you will learn how such changes are affecting its polar ecosystem. We will focus on the adaptations organisms require to thrive in marine, terrestrial and/or freshwater ecosystems. You will learn about how plants withstand freezing temperatures, thermoregulation in mammals and birds on land and at sea, the effect of sea ice on marine species and the fluctuations in fish populations.  

The course will look at the ecological processes of nutrient transfer across ecosystems, population dynamics and species richness of the Arctic regions in northern Scandinavia and Greenland through case studies. 

You will get your own experience with the Arctic biology through a field study and you will obtain first-hand experience on how migrating polar species rely on ecosystems in Denmark when they embark on their long journeys. 

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course you will have an overview of the different habitats in the Polar regions, marine and terrestrial food webs, as well as, how species groups within fish, plants, birds and mammals have adapted to these cold areas. 

Moreover,  you will be able to communicate and understand theories and analyses of Arctic ecology within population dynamics, species interactions and evolutionary adaptations as well as the human impact on the Polar ecosystems

You will also learn how the different habitats are affected by climate change and human exploitation. Some focus will be on research in Denmark and Greenland as well as in parts of Norway. A number of prominent researchers will also be joining us throughout the course to provide insight into their fields of study.

The course is roughly divided into the below modules:

  1. Polar Ecosystems and Ecological Concepts
  2. Climate and weather systems in the Polar Ecosystem
  3. Adaptations in the cold environment
  4. Marine Ecosystems: From Phyto- and Zooplankton to the top of marine food chains
  5. Bird Migration and The East Atlantic Flyway
  6. Freshwater Ecosystems in the Arctic
  7. Plant adaptations to life in the cold
  8. Impacts of climate change in the Polar regions and the effects of pollution in the Arctic
  9. Long term monitoring programs in the Arctic and plant adaptations to polar climates
  10. Natural resource exploitation in the Polar regions
  11. Arctic, politics, security
  12. Circumpolar Protected Areas Monitoring
  13. Biotic interactions
  14. Polar Bears, top predator
  15. From science to policy: ICES and the ArcticIntroduction to the ecology of Polar regions


Jannik Hansen: M.Sc.  (Wader/shorebird breeding ecology and behavioural ecology), Dept. of Animal Behaviour, Copenhagen University, 2001. Scientific officer at Arctic Ecosystem Ecology, Department of Ecoscience, Aarhus University (2004-2021), incl. monitoring field work at Zackenberg Research Station, Northeast Greenland (2005-2022). Project officer (2014- ) for and board member (2007- ) of the International Wader Study Group. Has worked with terrestrial animals, primarily shorebirds, in the field in, Denmark, Sweden, Northeast Greenland, central Norway, and Svalbard.  With DIS since 2021.


Please note there is no textbook for this course.

Examples of literature:

Arctic Ecology. Thomas, D. Wiley, 2021.

The Biology of Polar Regions. D.N. Thomas, G.E. Fogg, P. Convey, C.H. Fritsen, J.-M. Gili, R. Gradinger, J. Laybourn-Parry, K. Reid, and D.W.H. Walton. Second Edition.  Published to Oxford Scholarship 2008.

Tundra-Taiga Biology. Robert M. M. Crawford. Published by Oxford University Press. 2013

INTERACT 2015. INTERACT Stories of Arctic Science. Eds.: Callaghan, T.V. and Savela, H. DCE – Danish Centre for Environment and Energy, Aarhus University, Denmark, 180 p.

Lento, J., W. Goedkoop, J. Culp, K.S. Christoffersen, Kári Fannar Lárusson, E. Fefilova, G. Guðbergsson, P. Liljaniemi, J.S. Ólafsson, S. Sandøy, C. Zimmerman, T. Christensen, P. Chambers, J. Heino, S. Hellsten, M. Kahlert, F. Keck, S. Laske, D. Chun Pong Lau, I. Lavoie, B. Levenstein, H. Mariash, K. Rühland, E. Saulnier- Talbot, A.K. Schartau, and M. Svenning. 2019. State of the Arctic Freshwater Biodiversity. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna International Secretariat, Akureyri, Iceland. ISBN 978-9935-431-77-6

CAFF. 2017. State of the Arctic Marine Biodiversity Report. Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna International Secretariat, Akureyri, Iceland. 978-9935-431-63-9

Till Kingdom Come?: An Analysis of Greenland as the Danish Link to the Arctic. Brief (Royal Danish Defence College). Author, Alexander Hviid. 2014.

Other readings will be made available online in Canvas

Field Studies

The field studies provide hands-on and experiential learning components of this course. These activities should be viewed as an integrated component of the lecture course and visits will illustrate and expand directly upon the content of the lectures and readings. Students will also visit field sites where research or nature monitoring is carried out. See the calendar below for field study dates and details.

Zoological gardens in Copenhagen. Animal adaptations

Botanical gardens in Copenhagen. Plant adaptations

Course mini symposium. Presentations of projects.


Study Tour to Akureyri, Iceland

The study tour to Akureyri is an integral part of the course as we take the classroom on the road and see how theory presented in the classroom translates to practice in the field. In Akureyri, we will focus on ongoing research where both terrestrial and marine Arctic research is well established. We will go hiking to explore the unique flora and fauna of the terrestrial and marine ecosystems on both land and seaside. You will experience the local culture and history of Akureyri. 

Long Study tour to Akureyri: 


Expectations for study tours

  • Participate in all activities
  • Engage in discussions, ask questions, and contribute to achieving the learning objectives
  • Respect the destination, the speakers, DIS staff, and your fellow classmates
  • Represent yourself, your home university, and DIS in a positive light

While on a program study tour, DIS will provide hostel/hotel accommodation, transportation to/from the destination(s), approx. 2 meals per day, and entrances, guides, and visits relevant to your area of study or the destination. You will receive a more detailed itinerary prior to departure.

Travel policies: You are required to travel with your group to the destination. If you have to deviate from the group travel plans, you need approval from the program director and the study tours office prior to departure. You are free to return to Copenhagen on your own if you choose to do so, but must stay with the group through the last visit and inform your study tour leaders of your plans in advance. 


Guest Lecturers

We will be having experts on particular subjects joining us for single lectures several times during the course. All with a high level of knowledge on the subject, and experience in presenting it.

Approach to Teaching

The classes will involve lectures, class discussion, group work, field studies and student projects. Furthermore, there will often be questions presented for you to consider, discuss, and present in small groups.

The lectures will be taught in the order written in the syllabus, unless you are told differently. The order of the lectures is to ensure that you know all of the basic concepts before we go on study tour and field trips that relate to your final projects.

Expectations of the Students

All students are expected to have completed the course readings before class, so we can discuss the material at the right level. It is important to be well prepared for class because I may randomly select students to give key points on the readings for that day.

Students are expected to participate actively in all classes and field studies and be open minded to your fellow student’s contribution to class. The aim is to establish an environment where we can learn from each other as well as from the texts and cases we engage with and you are expected to actively support this approach. 


Students will be evaluated on their ability to understand, discuss and communicate scientific concepts within Polar Biology as well as interpret them meaningfully. These skills will be the primary focuses in evaluations. Group work in class and in the field as well as the student's ability to contribute to a group effort will be taken into account for the grade.


To be eligible for a passing grade in this class you must complete all of the assigned work. The overall grade will come from the following:




Students are expected to participate in all classes and field studies. Furthermore, active participation in class is required in order to get a good grade for participation. Examples of active student participation: volunteer to sum up key points from last class (2-3 min), ask questions about readings, lectures etc., start and/or participate in class discussions relating to the subjects treated.


 2 Tests on general Polar Biology topics 

Both tests will be covering general terms and definitions of Polar Biology based on readings, lectures and field studies.

 2x 20%


An online written test (essay style answers). Open book.


Final exam

Online, written test, essay style. Open book.


Short Study Tour Assignment

        A selection of questions and assignments to be carried out during our short study tour                  week at the Wadden Sea.


Akureyri Study Tour Assignment

A selection of questions and assignments to be carried out during the six-day study tour to Akureyri. The assignment is designed to contextualize experiences in Akureyri with the course material in general and the student projects in particular.


Student Project and Presentation

The students will work with projects in smaller groups. Data will be provided from Aarhus University, and are data collected in Northeast Greenland. Students can chose the data they want to work with, and scientists will be eager to see what the students find. This is as close to doing a real science paper as we can get in this course. Real data, from a real Arctic study site. And the student will study the issue, read the literature and produce a small paper in groups.



Academic Regulations

Use of Phones and Laptops in class is not allowed unless it is for notes and specified research in class.

Please make sure to read the Academic RegulationsLinks to an external site. on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on: 

Links to an external site.


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia - www.DISabroad.orgLinks to an external site.


Course Summary:

Date Details Due