Iceland Field Course: Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability

Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability

ISCI 361, ISCI 461 | 3 Credits

About the virtual program

This program is virtual and will take place online for Summer 2021. Please apply by Monday, February 22, 2021.

About the course

This course is led by UBC faculty members Dr. Lee Groat and Dr. Denise Gabriel.

Contemporary scientists agree that solutions to complex global challenges such as environmental sustainability calls for “systems thinking”, the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. 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.

This 3-credit summer term 1 course (program runs between May 10 to June 17, 2021) builds on ISCI 360, in which students examine the complex interconnecting components that contribute to the nature and status of the present-day system of a country, a region, or a city. We intend to begin with a study of Iceland—as a completely self-contained nation-state ‘system’, Iceland offers a particularly valuable case study.

About the virtual experience

For 2021, we have re-envisioned the ISCI 361 field course and are bringing Iceland to you virtually! Through our long-standing relationship with Icelandic experts and our on-site travel guides, we will take you through an incredible Icelandic experience.

Potential site visits include:

  • Westman Islands and Golden Circle (here we will learn about geology, hydrology, geothermal energy)
  • Skaftafell (home to glaciers and a natural birch forest). Our guide will take us to the glacier and then to kulsárlón– a glacial river lagoon with calving glaciers
  • We will engage in presentations by Icelandic specialists at the University of Iceland’s Research Centre in Höfn, and then visit a glacial tongue with a local expert
  • Reyðarfjörður: We will visit the highly controversial Fjarðaál Smelter
  • Forestry in Hallorms-staðaskógur
  • Húsavík: We will learn about whaling
  • Dettifoss, Mývatn, Akureyri: We will visit a number of sites of ecological and geological interest in this unique region.
  • Blönduós hydropower plant
  • Stykkishólmur: We will meet with local representatives who will speak about their community’s efforts to achieve ‘EarthCheck Certification’
  • Breiðafjörður Bay: We will take a tour around one of the richest ecosystem areas in Iceland

Students will hear and interact directly with Icelandic specialists, and explore real-world applied topics ranging from human settlement to the role of geothermal energy in the Icelandic economy, from ecological to glaciological interests, and from water systems to agriculture. There is the possibility we will also meet virtually with the President of Iceland!

Example of a typical day/week

A typical day includes a virtual tour around specific sites (Þingvellir, Jökulsárlón). In some cases the virtual tour will be live, while in others it will be pre-recorded due to the time difference. Our expert guide will take us to the centre of the action and course instructors will provide detailed and interactive commentary on sustainability issues related to that site. Students will have the opportunity to interact with course instructors, Icelandic experts, the Icelandic community, as well as other classmates on daily topics.

Eligibility requirements

General Global Seminar requirements

  • You must have at least a 70% average in your most recent Winter Session of full-time studies prior to application
  • You need to be a UBC student in good standing (e.g., not be under academic or non-academic discipline) to participate in a Global Seminar
  • You should have full-time student status (as defined by your faculty) in the year prior to your Global Seminar
  • You must maintain 70% average prior to your Global Seminar departure
  • You must have completed or intend to complete the necessary (or equivalent) pre-requisite courses prior to Global Seminar start date
  • Unclassified students will be considered on a case-by-case basis
  • You will need to be accepted by the Program Director leading the Global Seminar

To be accepted for this Global Seminar, you have to meet both program-specific requirements as well as Go Global’s general eligibility.

Program-specific requirements

This course is open to students with third-year or higher standing in the Faculty of Science.


  • Recommended prerequisite ISCI 360, Systems Approaches to Regional Sustainability (taking place in Term 2 of each academic year) or assigned readings.
  • 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.

General timelines

This 3-credit summer term 1 course runs between May 10 to June 17, 2021.

Application deadline

Monday, February 22, 2021

How to apply

  • Log in to the Gateway online application program
  • Select “Search Experiences” and type "VGS" to explore Global Seminars programs
  • Upload the application form for your selected Global Seminar – see Application documents below

You can apply for up to a maximum of 2 Global Seminars.

Students are encouraged to meet with the Program Director at an orientation session or one-on-one to learn more about the program.

ISCI 360
2021S T1