Course Syllabus

DIS Logo


Semester & Location:

Summer 2023 - Session 1- 2 DIS Copenhagen

Type & Credits:

6 credits

Study Tour:


Major Disciplines:

Biology, Environmental Science

Faculty Members:

Trine Warming Perlt -



Description of Course

Current climate change is daily featured in the news and in the media and the Arctic is frequently used as an example of how fast climate change is happening. Many of the organisms inhabiting the Arctic are uniquely adapted to the special conditions of their region and are therefore especially vulnerable to changes to those conditions. At the same time the Arctic is warming much faster than the global average and this significant regional warming has serious implications for the fragile arctic ecosystem. In this course we seek to understand the mechanisms and processes behind anthropogenic climate change and the effect this change has on arctic ecosystems in general. We will then dive into more detail in our work on case studies of different parts of the arctic ecosystem e.g. marine plankton, terrestrial plant-pollinator relationships, ice algae, and freshwater ecosystems. 

The theory provided in the lectures and readings will be supported by a 10-day study tour to Greenland and class work in a well-established research laboratory at the University of Copenhagen. We will travel to Greenland and experience for ourselves the role Greenland plays both as a place rich in opportunities to study past climate changes, and as a place particularly sensitive and vulnerable to the effects of modern climatic changes. The field trip will be filled with exploration and education. The class will experience a close encounter with the Greenland Ice Sheet, sail the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ilulissat Icefjord (Links to an external site.) in the midnight sun, view magnificent wildlife, and we will engage with the local people and learn of their culture.

The scientific part of the study tour will include a 5-day stay at one of the oldest research stations in the Arctic - the Arctic Station (Links to an external site.) on Disko Island. Here we will sense the presence of the history of arctic research in Greenland as well as engage with climate researchers who are monitoring the effects of the current climate change - we will even accompany one of them on her work in the field. We will also conduct fieldwork of our own, performing measurements in the unique arctic ecosystems, gathering samples and bringing them back to the lab to analyze them further.

When we return to from our travels in Greenland we will spend the following week at a research laboratory at the University of Copenhagen were you will learn how to process the samples we brought home with us. This will be a week full of hands-on experience with laboratory techniques where you will be helped along by experienced research laboratory technicians.  

A significant element of the course is a portfolio project where you will be working in small groups on case studies of different arctic ecosystems. In the first part of the course you will choose which type of ecosystem to focus on and read up on it. During the study tour the groups will give presentations (in the field if weather permits) of their chosen ecosystem and its' organisms to the rest of the class. You will learn how formulate a scientific hypothesis, design an experiment to test the hypothesis and you will acquire the relevant laboratory skills for the experiments. An important learning objective of the course is that students show independent thinking and ability to apply the theory from lectures and readings and the methods learned in the lab to the design of scientific experiments. 

Learning Objectives

By the end of this course you will be able to

  • Identify the components of the Earth’s climate system and understand the underlying processes of our climate system.
  • Explain the main forcings behind anthropogenic climate change and which feedbacks are at play.
  • Understand the implication of enhanced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to anthropogenic emissions.
  • Understand the special living conditions for organisms inhabiting the Arctic and the impact of climate change on arctic ecosystems.
  • Set up measurements in the field in collaboration with fellow students.
  • Sample different components of various arctic ecosystems (freshwater, terrestrial, marine, glacier).
  • Process the gathered samples in the laboratory.
  • Design experiments that simulate climate change effects on arctic ecosystems together with fellow students.
  • Formulate a hypothesis, design experiments to test the hypothesis, conclude on your results, compare your findings to existing literature and write a report.
  • Translate theoretical knowledge from lectures and readings into practical experiments in the lab and measurements in the field.
  • Collaborate with fellow students and show ability to work as a team when addressing scientific questions and performing lab work.
  • Communicate your scientific work to an audience.
  • Show independent thinking when designing experiments. 


Trine Warming Perlt, M.Sc. in Biology, University of Copenhagen. Employed at Dept. of Biology, University of Copenhagen since 2003. Secretary at Polar Science Centre UCPH (2010-2013). Research and teaching interests include arctic ecosystems (in particular freshwater), phytoplankton, and ice algae. Has over the years worked on several large international research projects and monitoring programs concerning climate change in the Arctic (most recently CBMP-freshwater, ARCTIC-BIODIVER, and Greenland Ecosystem Monitoring). With DIS since 2021.


D.N. Thomas (ed): Arctic Ecology, 2020


E. Born and J. Böcher (ed): The Ecology of Greenland, 2001

Ecology of Greenland cover.png

F. Ruddiman: Earth’s Climate Past and Future, 3rd edition, 2017

Relevant primary scientific literature

And more

Field Studies

Field studies are an important part of this course. Apart from the two-week field trip to Greenland, students will be working in a research laboratory in Copenhagen to acquire hands-on experience with the scientific methods taught in the theoretical part of the course.

In Greenland we will be hiking to most of the localities we are to visit so confidence in hiking in hilly and potentially slippery terrain is mandatory. You will also be required to bring practical clothing and footwear that will allow you to stay warm and dry in cold weather. 

The following is a rough outline of the field trip to Greenland (6-17 June): We will start by visiting the Greenland Ice Sheet near Kangerlussuaq. Here we will witness the retreating glacier first-hand and perform measurements on the ice. We will also go on a wild-life safari to see if we can spot musk oxen, reindeer, arctic foxes and more. The next stop is Ilulissat in Disko Bay where we will visit the Ilulissat Icefjord, where a sea-terminating glacier and UNESCO World Heritage site has become a symbol of the effects of global warming. We will also engage with the local population and learn of the Inuit culture and history. From Ilulissat we sail across the Disko Bay to Qeqertarssuaq on Disko Island. This small town is home to one of the worlds oldest research stations situated in the Arctic - the Arctic Station. We will stay at the station and engage with the researchers doing field work there. We will also hike to some of the sites in the area which have been used to monitor climate change over the years. Disko Island is also the place where we will conduct most of our own field work, taking measurements of environmental variables and gathering samples in the field. During the field trip we will also fit in theoretical sessions (e.g. lectures and student presentations) when appropriate. 


Lectures, laboratory work, measurements and sampling in the field, group work, discussions, field studies, student projects and presentations.


In Copenhagen, class meetings will be divided between the laboratory and class-room teaching to allow a good balance between theory and practice. The laboratory work will be supported by theoretical lectures, discussions, student presentations, quizzes and wrap-ups. In Greenland, focus will be on field observations, measurements and data analysis, supported by lectures and student presentations.


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:


Participation (40%): 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, actively engage in laboratory work and actively contribute to a constructive and inspiring team work with your fellow students.

Field and lab Portfolio (20%): Students will hand in a field and lab portfolio during the course. The portfolio consists of a compilation of lab and field reports from the experiments conducted in the lab, measurements and observations made in the field etc.

Student Project (40%): Student projects will be carried out in small groups. Each group will choose a subject, formulate a hypothesis and design an experiment to investigate the problem. The final product will be a report and a group presentation of the project results. Required elements of each project is that students familiarize themselves with the theoretical background and the methods they are using, give a thorough description of the experiment, its purpose and the expected results.





Field and lab Portfolio


Student Project


Academic Regulations

Please make sure to read the Academic Regulations on the DIS website. There you will find regulations on:

Course Summary

A tentative program is shown below. The dates of the field trip to Greenland (ca. 2 weeks) are TBA.

Week 1



Introduction to the course

Introduction to Earth’s climate system.

Introduction to the Arctic 

Documenting climate change (Ice cores)

Week 2




Arctic ecosystems

Introduction to experimental design

Field trip preparations 

Weeks 3 + 4




Field trip to Greenland (6-17 June)

Greenland Ice Sheet, Ilulissat Icefjord

Field work in Disko Island including stay at the Arctic Station

Engage with researchers doing field work in Greenland

Week 5



Laboratory work on samples from Greenland

Field and lab portfolio

Week 6

Student projects and student presentations to be finalized.


DIS - Study Abroad in Scandinavia -

Course Summary:

Date Details Due