GEO4432 – The Surface Energy Balance in Cold Environments

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

The course introduces energy exchange processes at the Earth’s surface, connecting the coupled cycles of water, energy and greenhouse gases of the atmosphere and ground. Students will become familiar with this so-called "surface energy balance" in different environments, providing a common framework to understand a range of phenomena, like surface temperature regimes on Earth and other planets, evapotranspiration, plant wilting, lake ice formation and ground freezing, as well as snow melt and glacier mass balance. Ultimately, they will gain a better understanding of the Earth’s water cycle and key formulations in state-of-the-art land surface and climate models.

Learning outcome

After taken this course, you have

  • understood the different components of the surface energy balance, i.e. different radiation components, turbulent fluxes or the ground heat flux;
  • gotten hands-on experience with calculating the surface energy balance for a range of applications,
  • written computer models to simulate the surface energy Balance,
  • applied the surface energy balance formalism to hydology with focus on evapotranspitration,
  • understood and applied different methods to infer evapotranspiration and snow mass balance in the field,
  • quantified processes related to buildt-up and melt of snowcover, as well as the mass balance of a glacier.
  • understood how the surface energy formalism is implemented in climate models, driving both the atmospheric and ocean circulation.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

This course has a limited capacity of maximum16 students. If there are more applicants than avaliable these students will have priority.

  1. Master students in Geosciences (master's two years) in the programme option Glaciology and hydrology having the course as mandatory in their study plan.
  2. Other master students at the Geosciences (master's two years).
  3. MSc exchange students.
  4. MSc single course students.

Applicants will be ranked by credits within each group. Admission will be decided by drawing lots for applicants who are ranked equally.


Formal prerequisite knowledge

The course includes a compulsory field course and excursions. A health and safety course for safety in the field must be passed before you can go on these.

Recommended previous knowledge


Lectures: 2hrs/week. Programming lab/seminar: 4hrs/week with discussions and presentations from the students. One project report based on a computer programming project and one student presentation counts towards the final grade.

A 3 days compulsory field course to Finse. A field report from the field course has to be written and approved in order to sit the final written examination.

Attendance at the first lecture is compulsory. Students who fail to meet, are considered to have withdrawn from the course unless they have previously given notice to the Study administration, email address:

General information about excursions at the Dept. of Geosciences.

As the teaching involves laboratory and/or field work, you should consider taking out a separate travel and personal risk insurance. Read about your insurance cover as a student.


  • The field report has to be approved in order to sit the final examination.
  • One seminar presentation counts for 20%.
  • One project reports based on a computer programming project counts for 20%.
  • Final examination counts for 60%.

The form of final exam depends on the number of students. If there are less than ca 12 students, the final exam will be oral. If there are more than ca 12 students, the final exam can be written (3 hours).

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English.You may submit your response in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Explanations and appeals

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Facts about this course






Every spring


Every spring

Teaching language