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The Uttermost Part of the Earth: The Intersection of Nature and the Human Enterprise in Southernmost Patagonia

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Program Quick Facts

  • Location: Southern Patagonia (Argentina and Chile)
  • Faculty Leader: Rob Dunbar, Doerr School of Sustainability
  • Arrival Date: August 30, 2023
  • Departure Date: September 22 or 23, 2023
  • Program Cost: $600
  • Academic Prerequisites: Open to all majors. There are no prerequisites for this course, however the ability to read and communicate in Spanish will be a valuable asset. Students will be assigned a series of readings about 3 months before the start of class and are expected to write a pre-class essay. As with all Bing Overseas seminars there are several mandatory class meetings during the school year preceding the course.
  • Activity Level: Moderate/Strenuous. Participants should expect to spend multiple hours engaging in physical activity such as hiking. Some days might require more physical activity such as a full day of hiking.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Health Information for Travelers to Argentina and Health Information for Travelers to Chile
  • US State Department Country Information: Argentina International Travel Information and Chile International Travel Information
  • Visa Information: Non-U.S. citizens entering Argentina may be subject to a reciprocity fee depending on nationality. Students are responsible for completing the necessary steps to pay the reciprocity fee. More Argentina reciprocity fee information will be shared with students at the appropriate time. Students from most nations will be issued visas upon entry to both Chile and Argentina. Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and reciprocity fee receipt (if applicable). Every BOSP participant MUST have a signed passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the scheduled RETURN date from the overseas program. Students who do not have a valid passport must apply for a new or renewed passport immediately. For information on obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport please visit the State Department website. 
  • Application Deadline: Sunday, January 29, 2023 at 11:59 pm PT

General Description

Patagonia is a land of extremes, with high mountains and fjords, precipitation ranging from >8 meters to <8 cm per year, and some of the strongest winds on Earth. From the Andes to the pampas our study area includes temperate rainforests, intricate fjord systems, ice caps, and deserts, all located adjacent to some of the highest productivity coastal waters in the world. Although many parts of Patagonia are either uninhabited or sparsely inhabited, both Argentina and Chile are rapidly developing their southern provinces with major investments in fisheries, tourism, forestry, ranching, and energy and water infrastructure. Some of this development is relatively unregulated, leading to a variety of social and environmental challenges. In this Bing Overseas Seminar students will develop an understanding of the complex systems that arise at the human-environment interface in Patagonia. The location provides an opportunity to examine multiple development paradigms as well as the effectiveness of governance systems in one of the world’s last “frontier” areas – where pristine nature meets the human enterprise.

This field-based course introduces students to the environmental gradients and natural resources of southern Patagonia as well as current issues in fisheries, ranching, tourism, and indigenous rights. The coupled human-natural systems of Patagonia provide a unique lens for students to explore broader resource management and conservation issues. The curriculum balances field exercises with community exploration in which students meet government planners, fishermen and fish processing plant operators, tour operators, and local conservationists. We will complete two team-based research projects.

Learning goals include:

  1. Methods of data acquisition and analysis for understanding coupled human-natural systems.
  2. Enhance capacity to think analytically and critically by questioning assumptions, evaluating evidence, and articulating well-reasoned arguments.
  3. Understanding natural resources and their development in southern Patagonia.
  4. Geomorphology/glacial processes and their impacts on land use, water supply, and tourism.
  5. Fjord oceanography relevant to aquaculture and fisheries.
  6. The course requires pre- and post-reflection essays as well as end-of-course reports.


Following assigned preparatory readings during the summer of 2023, class will convene in Punta Arenas, Chile, a busy port city located on the Straits of Magellan and the home of the Universidad de Magallanes. September is the end of winter but is in fact an optimal time for our class as winds are lower than in spring and summer and long periods of sunny, cool weather are not uncommon. The class will begin with introductory lectures on the natural history, ecology, and development status of Southern Patagonia by Universidad de Magallanes faculty. Following our introductory activities in Punta Arenas we will transit to Puerto Natales, the gateway city for Torres del Paine National Park. Puerto Natales is the center of the rapidly expanding salmon aquaculture and tourism industries in southern Patagonia. Weather permitting, we will conduct oceanographic fieldwork within the fjords adjacent to Puerto Natales. One possible study topic is the growing anoxia in fjord waters, linked to the aquaculture industry and likely to feed back on the salmon farms in a negative way. Another unit will include analysis of the landscape and the roles of modern climate change and glacial retreat as well as ranching as agents of change. We will then cross the international border in to Argentina to study in and around the towns of El Calafate and El Chalten. These towns provide access to the Glacier National Park of Argentina and provide additional views of tourism development as well as glacial/water/energy connections. The class ends with 4 days in Ushuaia, Argentina, located on the Beagle Canal on Tierra del Fuego. We will examine forestry and Antarctic tourism as well as meet with scientists at the Centro Austral de Investigaciones Científicas prior to conducting a reflection exercise comparing the coupled human-natural systems of the two countries.

Living and Travel Conditions

We will stay in local hotels in the 5 cities where we will be based. Meals will be provided at local restaurants or within the hotels. Relatively little fresh produce arrives in Patagonia outside of the main tourist seasons but fresh seafood, beef, and lamb and some vegetables/grains are available. Patagonia is cold but often windless and sunny in September. Students will need to dress warmly in layers and always be prepared for the possibility of snow, rain, and wind. We will be going on several hikes of 4 to 8 miles length during the class and may well encounter snow, so warm footwear is a must.  All areas we will be working are safe with respect to crime and disease. Most of the roads are paved and we are unlikely to experience high traffic as this is the tourist low season.


Rob Dunbar is the W.M. Keck Professor of Earth Sciences at Stanford University and a Bass University Fellow in Undergraduate Education. He received his Ph.D. from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD in 1981. He began working in Patagonia and the Antarctic Peninsula in 1982 and has organized geologic mapping campaigns and small vessel limnology and fjord expeditions in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina for over 35 years. Dunbar’s research group examines the record and impacts of past climate change with a view towards better understanding of our greenhouse future. Since his arrival at Stanford in 1997, he has become increasingly involved in studies of human-natural systems, including coral reefs as well as high latitude coastal systems. Dunbar is a founding member of the multi-institutional “Reefs Tomorrow Initiative” and co-authored the 2012 “Scientific Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Reefs”, now signed by nearly 4,000 scientists worldwide. Dunbar’s current field work in Palau, Chagos, and Mauritius is aimed at measuring the balance between reef growth and reef loss due to environmental changes, including ocean acidification, over a variety of timescales. His current work in Patagonia involves analysis of recent climate change impacts in Chilean fjords and lakes.

Dunbar has previously taught Bing Overseas Seminars on the Ecology and Management of Coral Reefs of Palau as well as 2 earlier version of BOSP Patagonia. He has also taught 4 courses on Coupled Human Natural Systems of SE Alaska for Sophomore College.

David Mucciarone, a Research and Development Scientist and Engineer in Earth Systems Science at Stanford, has been working in the field of geochemistry, oceanography, marine geology, and paleoclimatology for over 30 years with field experience in Patagonia, Antarctica, and many Pacific islands. While part of his time is spent in the campus laboratory working, training, and mentoring high school, undergraduate, and graduate students on various research projects, he is also an established field scientist and technical specialist with expertise in instrument development. He welcomes the challenges of working in the field: developing and, when necessary, improvising ways to deploy instrumentation, implement scientific investigations, and train students in the process. Mucciarone enjoys working with students to broaden their exposure to the unique and rewarding aspects of science outside the classroom.

Enrollment Capacity

14 Undergraduate Students

Grading Basis

  • Letter grade

Health and Safety

Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, and psychological conditions vary by culture and under the laws of the host countries. These differences impact the level of treatment and accommodation available abroad. Students should give serious consideration to their health and personal circumstances when accepting a place in a program and should consult with their physicians.

While the benefits of international travel can be enormous, it is often associated with certain health and safety risks. Thankfully, a number of interventions exist to mitigate these risks including vaccines, use of certain medications, and specific behavior changes. Health concerns vary by the particular destination, time of year, the health of the individual, type of accommodations, length of stay and specific activities. Participants should be up to date on all their regular immunizations, check the CDC website for vaccinations and immunizations. In addition, specific travel vaccines such as typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies vaccines may be indicated. Various types of medication may also be needed to prevent life-threatening malaria or altitude illness; or to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Finally, students should learn and utilize insect precautions, food and water precautions, and general safety precautions. These can prevent illnesses such as dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV; or accidents such as those involving motor vehicles. In spite of all the precautions, occasionally students due become ill or sustain an injury while traveling. Thankfully, most of these are minor. However, it is critical students have a clear plan of care in case of an emergency on their trip. The travel clinic at the Vaden Health Center has produced an online travel health module that provides comprehensive strategies to help you stay safe and healthy while traveling.

Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for complete information regarding the health concerns and vaccine recommendations specific to Argentina and Chile. Students must also discuss with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic or a travel health specialist about the best ways to protect their health.

There will be a mandatory Argentina/Chile health orientation in February. 

Students must review the U.S. State Department’s consular information website for complete information on safety and security in Argentina and Chile.

As with any foreign travel, emphasis will be placed on staying away from questionable situations, avoiding injury, and preventing infectious disease. Students will be expected to travel in groups, avoid travel at night, and stay with the group unless prior approval is obtained.

While overseas, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the areas in which they will be visiting. Students should consult with their health care provider(s) to be prepared for potential illness. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-seminar preparation and upon arriving in country.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.

Program Modification and Cancellation

Stanford reserves the right to cancel or modify the seminar program before or during its operation for any reason, including natural disasters, emergencies, low enrollment, or unavailability of facilities or personnel or compliance with the University travel policy. The specific seminar dates, locations, facilities, and activities are subject to change depending on available resources at the time, safety and security situations on the ground, and other important considerations that may arise for a successful implementation of the seminar.