Field Trip to Chile
Our group experienced a variety of highlights of geological interest in Chile. We established base in La Serena in the north-central area of Chile for the first week of the trip, and then in the capital city of Santiago for the second week.
Chile is a premier mining destination and we visited two mines at different stages of development. The Andes Iron mine in La Dominga is in the pre-feasibility stage, and we spent two days exploring the property and examining drill cores with company geologists. The El Teniente copper mine is the world’s largest underground mine and has been exploited for more than a century. The mine is not normally opened to visitors. Dr. Steve McKinnon (Adjunct Professor), however, is a member of the international technical advisory board for the mine and organized for us an exceptional underground private tour with geologists from Codelco, the national copper corporation of Chile.
Our exploration of Chile took us to two UNESCO sites. We visited the historical Sewell mining town next to the El Teniente mine and Fray Jorge National Park. At Fray Jorge, a unique weather phenomenon takes place daily: cool moist air from the Pacific Ocean condenses at mid-day on a high ridge to form a thick cloud, the “camanchaca”. The micro-climate created by the “camanchaca” has created a small luxuriant forest in the middle of the desert.
Hiking is one of the best ways to “connect” with geology. The group hiked the Valle del Elqui with a local guide. We also had the opportunity to meet with Prof. George Dix who led a day of hiking in a nature reserve, just outside Santiago, to examine sedimentary rocks and reflect on pollution issues.
Finally, our southern hemisphere experience would not have been complete without a gaze at the night sky. We visited the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, a world-class astronomical research facility. We also spent an evening with an astronomer at the El Pangue Observatory and took turns at observing planets, stars and galaxies through the telescope.