The Geography of Polar Regions

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Fall 2016 and Winter 2017 quarters

Taught by

This program focuses on the regional dynamics that form the environmental conditions of the Arctic and Antarctic. The two regions share similar and contrasting physical and social settings.  The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land and has been inhabited by indigenous peoples for approximately 10,000 years with increasing Euro-American dominance in the last 100 years.  In contrast, Antarctic is a continent surrounded by ocean and has only been sporadically inhabited by humans. This program will investigate the interactions of the physical conditions, exploration, economic attractiveness, political conditions, and indigenous populations of the two sub-regions.

The program will focus on the Arctic during fall quarter. This region is a complicated mixture of seawater, sea ice, isolated islands, and land areas surrounded by eight nations. The physical geography of the area is being strongly affected by warming temperatures. Newly accessible natural resources and healthy fisheries challenge indigenous populations as countries attempt to control these resources. We will investigate the role of the Arctic Council as the political organization in “control” of the Arctic region. Students will deliberate in a mock Arctic Council to understand indigenous relations with Euro-American political states, impacts of changing land uses, the role of research in decision-making, and the globalization of the Arctic.  Our learning will be enhanced by a multi-day trip to the North Cascades Institute and National Park.

We will examine Antarctica in winter quarter and compare it with the Arctic. Antarctica is governed by a 1958 treaty that emphasizes peace and scientific research.  Established research stations and tourism operations bring thousands of people to the continent each year, introducing conflict and exploratory activities that defy the intent of the treaty. We examine the development of the whaling industry, the physical geography, sea ice, climate and climate change, animal life including extremophiles, explorations and claiming of the continent, and contemporary political and economic activities in the sub-region.

Students will develop knowledge of physical and social processes that have defined the two regions, compare and contrast regional differences, and gain experience in scientific methods including quantitative and qualitative research, and geographic information systems (GIS). Students will participate in field trips to local sites with polar conditions. Guest speakers and multi-media presentations will provide further polar learning. Student learning will be measured by participation and completion of lab work, participation in field trips, note-taking and journal writing, research projects, and participation in lecture, seminar and workshops.

Program Details

Fields of Study

environmental studies geography

Preparatory For

geography and environmental history.


Fall Open Winter Open

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Advertised Schedule

First winter class meeting: Tuesday, January 10th at 10am (Sem II D2105)

Online Learning

Hybrid Online Learning 25 - 49% Delivered Online


$550 for overnight field trips in fall.


2016-04-11New fall-winter opportunity added.