Iceland Field Course: Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability

Information Session: TBA (Usually in October)

Course Description

As argued in ISCI 360, to understand sustainability, we also need to understand unsustainability. We have deliberately adopted systems thinking as the approach for ISCI 361, using the logic that any region of the world needs to be understood as an integrated system before we can understand what will happen when that system is perturbed. Systems thinking as an approach to problem-solving argues that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. A scientific approach to examining the world that embraces systems thinking therefore demands that we consider landscapes, regions or whole continents as systems. In these systems, elements such as land, air, water, human societies, plants, and animals, interact in ways that influence the likelihood that the system will survive or perish.

ISCI 361 takes place in Summer Term 1. It is an intensive 3-week 3-credit course that runs from late April to mid-May each year. In 2020 it will run from approximatly May 1st - May 18th (dates to be confirmed - students can depart Iceland anytime May18). 

ISCI 361 currently visits and examines Iceland as a case study region of the world. With assistance from the University of Iceland's Institute for Sustainability Studies, we will spend a week in Reykjavik, learning from a range of Icelandic experts about topics ranging from human settlement of Iceland to the role of geothermal energy generation in the Icelandic economy. We will then spend two weeks travelling around Iceland, visiting a number of academic centres, national parks and sites of ecological, geothermal and glaciological interest. We will consider input from multiple scientific (and some social science) disciplines to answer a range of questions about the Icelandic system and its sustainability. How does the underlying geology of Iceland affect its water systems and agriculture? What advantage does geothermal energy offer this small nation state? To what degree is Icelandic hydrolectric energy - dependent on glacial rivers - sustainable? How do the climate and geology of Iceland affect its ecosystems and agriculture? What special advantages and challenges are unique to this area of the earth system?

Course goals and learning objectives

By participating in ISCI 361 you will:

  • Gain hands-on experience in applying principles of systems thinking to scientific investigation of a selected region of the world.
  • Gain field research experience through investigation of a local sustainability challenge as a team research project and presentation your findings to the group.
  • Pursue selected Icelandic sustainability topics of your own choice and compile notes on your observations, further research and learning in a course logbook.


This course is open to students with third-year or higher standing in the Faculty of Science. Ideally, students will have who have completed ISCI 360, Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability (taking place in Term 2 of each academic year). However, applicants with equivalent prior study of sustainability topics will be considered.

While the course is suitable for third-to fourth-year students from a variety of majors and science disciplines, preference will be given to students registered in Integrated Sciences.

You will be selected based on personal and intellectual maturity and a demonstrated commitment to the learning theme and goals of the program

How to apply

For more information about applying for this field course, visit the Go Global ISCI 361 page.

This group-study program will consist of approximately 26 student participants.




ISCI 360
2021S T1