Thursday, May 23, 2013

The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS)

Paraphrasing from Wikipedia (again): UNIS is the world’s northernmost higher education institution offering undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate level courses in Arctic Biology, Geology, Geophysics and Technology.
UNIS was established in 1993 to provide university level education in Arctic studies, to carry out high quality research, and to contribute to the development of Svalbard as an international research platform. UNIS’ geographical position gives it a unique advantage, enabling students and faculty to use nature as a laboratory.
UNIS' new building (2006) on a clear day
The new building was built in 2006 to house both the University and the Museum. The photo above shows the mountains across the fjord and was taken on a clear, cold and windy May 22nd. The photo below was the next day -  snowy and with no mountains visible.
This morning's snowy view of the same building - no mountains!
 About 450 students from all over the world take one or more courses every year at UNIS. The student body is approximately 50 % Norwegian and 50 % international students; therefore English is the official language at UNIS. There are no tuition fees and there is affordable housing (at least by Norwegian standards!).

View from inside the UNIS building
UNIS’ faculty are also about 50 % Norwegian and 50 % international, and consist currently of 20 fulltime professors, 21 assistant professors and about 170 guest lecturers who specialize in arctic issues. UNIS researchers work in collaboration with Norwegian and foreign research institutions and are actively involved in a large number of joint research projects.

Darrell in the Scandinavian style hallway at UNIS
Darrell and Matt are two of the many guest lecturers invited to UNIS. Darrell has been presenting on a variety of geochronologic tools, including amino acid racemization, for an Arctic Quaternary Geochronology course. Matt is mostly presenting on paleomagnetism for the same course. Both of them gave two lectures and then prepared a lab exercise for the students to work on. They also took a field trip across Adventfjorden to see some glacial deposits – but the snow impeded some of the views. It is an amazing opportunity just to come here, and we would have come just for the joy of it, but they also get paid and have housing provided, which makes it much more affordable.

The UNIS building also houses the local information center and the museum. The museum is pretty small but has a good display on the history of the area. There weren’t any native people living here prior to the arrival of early explorers, whalers, and miners, but everything here from prior to 1946 is protected as a historic artifact.

Overview of the inside of the museum
The information on the plants and animals was all in Norwegian so I can’t be too specific on species in the area besides Ursus maritimus, but they did have an artistic food web that I really liked!

An eider's artistic food web!
Next blog - a walk in the snow!

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