Chile & Argentina- Climate Impacts and Risk

Home to vast mineral deposits, towering mountain ranges, and dramatic desert landscapes, Chile and Argentina have come to play an important role in powering the renewable energy transition while already encountering impacts of climate change. During this three-week journey with the Columbia Climate School and our experts, learn about the impacts of climate change on risk and preparedness in Santiago and Valparaiso, the mining industry and diminishing water resources in northern Chile, and how local communities are responding as you travel from Santiago, Chile to the Atacama Desert and on to the Andean plateau of northern Argentina. 

For Chile, the impacts of climate change have now become an issue of profound concern on numerous fronts, from melting glaciers to conflicts over water rights between big agricultural businesses and small farmers. As a result, the Chilean government has introduced a range of measures to help the country adapt to hotter and drier conditions in the near future. The country has also significantly expanded its use of renewable sources, particularly in solar and in wind energy, which is being generated in Chile’s Atacama desert. 

Learn from Columbia Climate School experts and gain important insights into how climate change is affecting disasters and extreme events, with a specific focus on risk and preparedness in Chile. The country’s economic inequality poses an additional challenge, making the impacts of climate disasters and extreme weather events felt more substantially by those who have fewer resources to recover and build. 

Working with Climate School experts and on-the-ground partners, students will learn about navigating the social and political connections of disasters and the social vulnerabilities and structural barriers to equitable recovery. Students will participate in field visits in Santiago and Valparaiso to see first-hand how local governmental agencies are setting up to respond to climate risks and impacts. They will also better understand how climate resilience is changing and how numerous stakeholders are collaborating on planning and recovery efforts in a systems thinking manner. While in Chile, students will also learn alongside a sustainable mining expert, who will introduce learners to responsible mining projects in Andean countries and how natural raw materials play a critical role in the world’s energy and transport transition in the face of climate change. 

From Central Chile to the northern deserts, students will be able to apply their knowledge of climate risks to better understand the impact of climate change on local communities, particularly those living in areas where significant mining activities take place. The Atacama Desert is one of the richest regions in the world for copper and lithium. Because of its location within the Andes and the Pacific, the region plays a critical role as a supplier of the world’s most precious materials. Increasing demand for these materials presents both opportunities and challenges for northern Chile and Argentina. 

Students will apply the knowledge and experience they have gained in Santiago to their exploration of the Atacama and the mountains and rural communities of northern Argentina, and will better understand how the mining industry is changing with climate change. There is a stronger push now for the mining industry to promote long-term development and appropriate strategies that pay close attention to human rights, local communities (particularly the role of women in decision-making roles), and transparency into responsible mining practices. At the end of their time in Chile and Argentina, students will walk away with a greater understanding of the climate risks the region faces and its impact on social and economic development, along with real-world knowledge and strategies for corporate social responsibility, how these practices contribute to the international climate agenda, and how stronger partnerships can create stronger networked communities to address climate challenges.


Program Length: 21 days

Program Dates: July 22 - August 11, 2023

Program Fee: $7,890

Program Capacity: 18 students, 2 Putney Student Travel leaders, 2 Columbia Climate School experts

Locations: Santiago, Valparaiso, Atacama, and northern Argentina from Humahuaca to Salta



  • Join a Columbia faculty expert on a guided visit to the Hanging Glacier outside Santiago
  • Take a day trip to Valparaiso and visit the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy to learn about disaster risk reduction strategies, tsunami risk, and warning systems
  • Understand how networks of government and civil-society organizations can partner to strengthen network responses to resilience and mitigation efforts
  • Explore the Chilean desert and examine the climate impacts and the role of human rights and gender equality in the mining sector, with special attention on local communities
  • Hike a section of the Inca trail in northern Argentina
  • Walk alongside ancient water management systems in northern Argentina  and interview local contacts about the impacts of climate change
  • Uncover mitigation strategies and solutions along the way, walk away with scientific, technical, social, and financial perspectives around climate risk in South America, and develop your own project to share your findings and identify solutions to challenges at home. 


Columbia Climate School Experts

Antonia Samur

Antonia Samur is a Staff Associate at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at the Columbia Climate School, Columbia University. Antonia has experience working in the interface of climate impacts and human development, focusing most of her academic and professional career to studying and developing tools to overcome the impacts that climate change and other disasters have on human development in vulnerable populations. Antonia is currently leading NCDP’s work with the government of Puerto Rico training child-serving organizations to be better prepared to meet the needs of children in disasters, along with assisting the research and coordination of several other projects. She has vast international experience, which include working for UN agencies in Chile and Kenya and youth leadership networks in New York City. Antonia earned a double master’s degree in International Affairs from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Paris’ School of Political Studies (Sciences Po Paris) in 2018, where she specialized in climate change policy. Antonia has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from University of Chile.



Nicolas Maennling is a development economist with experience in academia, the public and private sectors. He is the Principal Advisor at the Regional Cooperation Programme for the Sustainable Management of Mineral Resources in the Andean Region (MinSus) for GIZ and Staff Associate at Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment. The project of the German Development Cooperation aims to promote responsible mining practices in the Andean region. It works with governments, civil society, academia and the private sector to implement socio-environmental standards along mineral supply chains, increase community participation in decision making, and support the efficient allocation of revenues from the sector in mining regions. He has published, taught, and led advisory projects in more than 20 resource rich countries. Before joining GIZ, he lived and worked in Mozambique and Timor-Leste advising the respective Governments on resource management prior a five-year stint at Columbia University’s Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment in New York, where he continues to be a fellow. Nicolas received a Bachelors in Economics from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in Economics from the University of Warwick.



Days 1-8: Santiago & Valparaiso, Chile 

Travel with your group from Miami to Santiago, Chile’s bustling capital situated between dramatic Andean peaks and the Pacific Ocean. Meet your Columbia Climate School experts and join a workshop on risk management and natural disasters. Travel into the Andes with a guide and visit the El Morado Hanging Glacier, a last remnant of the ancient glacier field that once covered the western Andes. Participate in an exchange with local Chilean students, and discuss shared understandings of the impacts of climate change on your communities and strategies being used to address them. Travel to the nearby coastal city of Valparaiso, and meet the Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service of the Navy for a field discussion on tsunami risk, warning systems, and lessons learned from past natural disasters. 

Days 9-12: Atacama Desert, Chile

Head north into the Atacama, the world’s driest nonpolar desert and an otherworldly landscape of colorful lagoons, salt flats, and volcanoes. Hike with a geologist through the Martianesque landscape, and keep a lookout for flamingos, vicuñas, foxes, and other native flora and fauna of this incredible landscape. Delve into the region’s long history of mining and discuss controversial mining projects being developed to supply lithium, copper, and other minerals to the renewable energy battery market. Explore human rights and gender equality issues in the mining sector, and interview local contacts about the community benefits and challenges of the mining industry. Interpret the influence of ancient oceans on this unique landscape, and the impacts of increasing desertification and water management challenges on local communities. 

Days 13-17: Tilcara, Santa Ana, and Valle Colorado, Argentina

Travel east and climb from the Atacama desert into the Argentinian Andes, passing through spectacular ravines and canyons with extraordinary geological origins as you ascend. As you travel south through the mountains, visit several small mountain communities and meet with residents, farmers, and officials to learn how climate change is impacting the region. Discuss Argentina’s wealth of natural resources and explore perspectives on conservation and economic development in this remote region. Join a local guide on a day hike through a southern portion of the Inca trail, stopping to visit pre-Incan sites and engaging with farmers and communities along the route. Explore village markets and learn about the produce and artisan industries local to the area. Spend a day exploring the biodiversity of Calilegua National Park, and learn about Argentina’s approach to conservation of wild lands and important ecological zones. 

Days 18-20 Salta, Argentina

Continue south to  Salta, Argentina. Head out for a final excursion into the surrounding mountains, put the finishing touches on your final project, and share it with your group. Reflect on your journey, and enjoy a final meal together. Travel from Salta back to Miami by way of Buenos Aires.



Students stay in doubles to quadruples in small hostels and family-run guesthouses. Leaders have singles in the same locations as students. Breakfasts are often taken on-site, with lunches and dinners out in cafes and restaurants.


Student Experience: 

Due to the dynamic nature of this summer program abroad, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of what a day in Chile might look like.

  • 8am Enjoy a delicious breakfast with our guesthouse hosts
  • 9am Meet up with your Columbia Climate School experts, and travel together into the mountains outside Santiago. Hike along the wall of a glacier, and learn how to read the geological landscape to better understand glacial movement. Discuss your impressions of Chile’s approach to natural hazard and risk management. 
  • 1pm Enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the metropolis below. 
  • 2pm Return to Santiago, and pay a visit to Columbia’s Global Center before heading out to visit a nearby market
  • 5pm Journal, read, work on capstone projects, or relax
  • 7pm Have dinner with your group at our accommodations or a local restaurant
  • 9pm Group meeting to discuss the day and upcoming schedule



The program will begin in Santiago; students will have the option to take a group flight from Miami, or join the group in Santiago. The group will travel around using a mix of public and private transportation in Santiago, and a chartered bus for excursions out of the city. The group will fly together from Santiago to Calama, in the Atacama Desert, and transfer to the town of San Pedro de Atacama. They will then travel by private bus from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta, stopping in the towns of Tilcara, Santa Ana, and Valle Colorado for 1-2 nights each. The group will fly from Salta to Buenos Aires and then return to Miami. 


Special notes: 

This program spends a lot of time outdoors, and students should be prepared to hike for several miles on multiple occasions. July and August are winter in South America, so students should be prepared for cooler temperatures and shorter days.



Have questions about the Columbia Climate School program content or faculty? 
Email us at [email protected]

Have questions about the application process?
Call Putney Student Travel at 802-387-5000 or email us at [email protected]