GEO9432 – The Surface Energy Balance in Cold Environments

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

Choose semester

Changes in the course due to coronavirus

Autumn 2020 and Spring 2021 the exams of most courses at the MN Faculty will be conducted as digital home exams or oral exams, using the normal grading scale. The semester page for your course will be updated with any changes in the form of examination.

Please note that there may be changes in the form of examination for some courses taught Spring 2021. We aim to bring both the course description and the semester page of all courses up to date with correct information by 1 February 2021.

See general guidelines for examination at the MN Faculty autumn 2020.

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 snowmelt 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 taking this course, you will 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 hydrology with focus on evapotranspiration
  • understood and applied different methods to infer evapotranspiration and snow mass balance in the field
  • quantified processes related to built-up and melt of snow cover, 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
  • gained experience in how to give a scientific presentation and how to write a scientific paper

Admission to the course

PhD candidates from the University of Oslo should apply for classes and register for examinations through Studentweb.

If a course has limited intake capacity, priority will be given to PhD candidates who follow an individual education plan where this particular course is included. Some national researchers’ schools may have specific rules for ranking applicants for courses with limited intake capacity.

PhD candidates who have been admitted to another higher education institution must apply for a position as a visiting student within a given deadline.

The courses GEO4432 and GEO9432 have a joint admission with a joint capacity of 16 students. If there are more then 16 applicants, the applicants will be ranked after the following categories:

  1. Students admitted to the following programme option:
  2. PhD candidates at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, UiO
  3. Other master students at one of the following programmes (prioritized order): 
  4. Visiting PhD candidates at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, UiO
  5. Incoming exchange students on Master's level 
  6. Other students

Applicants will be ranked within each category: all applicants within category 1 are ranked before applicants in category 2. If there are space limitations in the course, available places will be given to students selected randomly.

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:

Overlapping courses


Lectures: 2 hours per week.

Programming lab/seminar: 4 hours per week, with discussions and presentations from the students. One project report based on a computer programming project and one student presentation count towards the final grade. For the PhD candidates, the presentation must hold a high scientific standard, similar to conferences, and the written report shall be submitted in the form of a scientific paper.

A 3-day 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 Student administration (

We reserve the right to change the teaching form and examination of the course in semesters where 5 or fewer students have been admitted.

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

General information about excursions at the Department of Geosciences

Cost of taking the course

Participation in the excursion is mandatory. The excursion has a fee of NOK 150 per night.


  • The field report has to be approved in order to sit the final examination.
  • One scientific seminar presentation counts 20% towards the final grade.
  • One scientific paper based on a computer programming project counts 20% towards the final grade.
  • Final examination counts 60% towards the final grade.
  • The form of the 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 will be written (3 hours).

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.

It will also be counted as 1 of the 3 attempts to sit the exam for this course if you sit the exam for the following course:

Examination support material

No examination support material is allowed.

Language of examination

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

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a pass/fail scale. Read more about the grading system.

Resit an examination

Students who can document a valid reason for absence from the regular examination are offered a postponed examination at the beginning of the next semester.

Re-scheduled examinations are not offered to students who withdraw during, or did not pass the original examination.

Special examination arrangements, use of sources, explanations and appeals

See more about examinations at UiO

Last updated from FS (Common Student System) Jan. 28, 2021 1:15:09 AM

Facts about this course

Teaching language