Center for Climate Studies


In Chilean Patagonia, towering pinnacles clash with rivers of ice, and life persists in the face of challenging seasonal extremes. Penguins, foxes, sea lions, and guanaco are just a few of the region’s hardy wildlife. Situated in the Ring of Fire, Patagonia’s stunning, snow-covered volcanic range presents an unmatched opportunity to study complex geological and seismic processes.


15 Weeks


18 Credits

Fall 2023

 Sep 1 - Dec 12


Spring 2024

 Jan 30 - May 10





Room & Board:


Total Cost:


Sample Itinerary

Sample Itinerary:


semester PROGRAM

Wild Patagonia: Fire and Ice

Puerto Natales, Patagonia

Patagonia is a land of fire and ice. Here, massive glaciers and active volcanoes form a wild landscape unlike any other. Spend a semester amid soaring peaks, narrow fjords, and fields of ice as you study conservation and the impacts of climate change. The trails of Torres del Paine National Park will become your classroom for research and field work. The semester ends with an extensive research project in the field.


  • Hike through the dramatic landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park.
  • Travel to the island of Tierra del Fuego, encountering king penguins, windswept landscapes, and evidence of massive past volcanic eruptions, and meet with the Selk’nam community still living on the island.
  • Visit the site of Fuerte Bulnes to learn about the arrival of the Chilean state to Southern Patagonia and the way historical and environmental conservation coincide.
  • Examine the economic and environmental policies of Chile, and how they have been influenced by the visible and dramatic impacts of climate change in the Patagonian region.
  • Embark on a multi-day expedition to the volcanic Lakes Region of northern Patagonia, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire to ascend volcanoes, meet local artisans, and partake in local customs.
  • Travel to El Calafate in Argentina to visit the Perito Moreno glacier and visit areas with prehistoric cave paintings that were made when glaciers were far larger than today.

Application deadlines:
Spring – November 1
Fall – May 1

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This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Chile. Read more about the SFS program model. Major academic themes include:

  • Climate change impacts and resilience
  • Glacial and freshwater dynamics
  • Geology and volcanic activity
  • Penguin behavior
  • Endangered species protection
  • Coastal and alpine ecology
  • Conservation strategy and practice
  • National park visitation and protected areas management


On the Wild Patagonia: Fire and Ice program, you will take three 4-credit disciplinary courses, one 2-credit language and culture course, and a 4-credit capstone Directed Research course. Courses are participatory in nature and are designed to foster inquiry and active learning. Each course combines lectures, field exercises, assignments, tests, and research. All courses are taught in English. Click on each course to view a description and download the syllabus.

SFS 2001
Language, Culture, and Society of Chile
2 credits
SFS 3081
Political and Social Dimensions of Conservation
4 credits
SFS 3601
Earth Systems and Climate Science
4 credits
SFS 3781
Patagonian Ecology
4 credits
SFS 4910
Directed Research
4 credits

SFS 2001 Language, Culture, and Society of Chile (2 credits)

This course will provide two lines of interfacing with Patagonia, connecting you with the language and culture in Patagonia, learning some of the linguistic variety at the Southern edge of the Americas, exploring the historical‐cultural contexts of that vocabulary, and learning about the cultural shifts that have defined the region, from before Magellan’s voyage through the Strait in 1520 through to voting for a new Constitution. With the examination of today’s society through its language and culture through transversal themes, you will have a chance to reflect on various social contexts. This can help you develop a well‐rounded understanding of Patagonia as a cultural space, which simultaneously overlies, intermingles, and undergirds the physical, ecological, and political processes covered in the other courses.


View Syllabus

SFS 3081 Political and Social Dimensions of Conservation (4 credits)

This is a very transformative time in Chilean conservation management. During 2022, the Chilean Constitutional Convention developed a draft new constitution, which includes a serious focus on environmental and natural resource conservation. On September 4th, 2022 the plebiscite decided to reject it. So, many local researchers, and practitioners in different conservation areas are concerned about the implications of it an effective conservation process. In another hand, many media outlets, such as CNN, the New York Times, and The Economist have had recent profiles on the influence of foreign private entities largely shaping the conservation scene in Chile. This course explores the decision-making apparatus within Chile and delves into the complexity of what societies decide to conserve, why societies decide to conserve or not, which places/things we choose to conserve or not, what the cost is (in human capital, economic capital, and to ecosystem services) when we choose to conserve or not, and who ultimately are the power brokers of the conservation movement in Patagonia (corporations, government entities, NGOs, foreigners, etc.), and by extension, how do the Chilean conservation management objectives and operations map onto the broader world stage? This course will stimulate debate and exploration and send students home with unprecedented insight.


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SFS 3601 Earth Systems and Climate Science (4 credits)

This course provides an overview of the Earth Systems – geosphere, cryosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere – the dynamic interactions between them, and the unique characteristics that these components display in Patagonia. The course covers Systems Theory, the overall characteristics of each system, and why we should think of the Earth as a system that is more than the sum of its parts. We will examine all systems in detail and find the relationship between them and switch the different time scale over which they operate. The course emphasizes the cryosphere and climate science and how these components interact in Patagonia and what will happen with them under climate change scenarios.


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SFS 3781 Patagonian Ecology (4 credits)

This course focuses on ecology as a discipline, biodiversity, and the Patagonian ecoregions and habitats that have evolved with short growing seasons, tenacious southwesterly winds, and fierce winters. We will examine the ecology and evolution of faunal species such as guanaco (related to the llama), Magellanic and king penguins, and the flightless ñandúes, most of them endemic to the region. We will explore ecological succession, including primary succession, which is how life recruits into new environments, such as bare rock after glacial retreat or after volcanic eruptions. We will explore a remarkable climatological gradient from Magellanic rainforests to semi-arid pampa. We will also travel to the temperate rainforests of Northern Patagonia. Thematically, we will traverse alpine ecology, exposed terrestrial ecology, coastal ecology, marine ecology, and fire ecology. From the central focus on the theory and practice of ecology, we will expand to investigate relationships between people and nature in conservation, resilience, and environmental challenges. We will explore the role of protected areas in conservation, invasive species, human-landscape interactions, and current and predicted changes due to climate change. The course is constructed so that the role of climate in shaping ecosystems and ecological relations are central to discussions and observations.


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SFS 4910 Directed Research (4 credits)

This course prepares students to distinguish hidden assumptions in scientific approaches and separate fact from interpretation, cause from correlation, and advocacy from objectivity. Students learn specific tools including: experimental design; field techniques; basic descriptive statistics; and parametric and non-parametric quantitative analysis. Emphasis is placed on succinct scientific writing, graphic and tabular presentation of results, and effective delivery of oral presentations.   View Syllabus

Core Skills

You will gain practical skills in the field such as: terrestrial and freshwater biodiversity assessments, GIS, water quality assessments, biodiversity survey techniques, species ID and population monitoring, natural resource valuation, landscape and soils analysis, research design and implementation, quantitative/qualitative data collection and analysis, scientific writing and communication, basic Spanish language skills.

Field Sites

You will visit different ecosystems and communities, which may include glaciers and ice fields, fjords, coastal villages and port cities, glacial lakes and rivers, Valdivian temperate forests, sub-polar broadleaf evergreen forests, pampa grasslands, protected areas surrounding the Calbuco and Osorno volcanoes, penguin colonies, the culturally unique island of Chiloé, and popular national parks.

summer session I

04 Weeks


04 Credits

Summer 2023

 Jun 2 - Jul 2


Summer 2024

 Jun 3 - Jul 2





Room & Board:


Total Cost:


Sample Itinerary

Sample Itinerary:


summer session I PROGRAM

The Patagonian Winter

Puerto Natales, Patagonia

With June comes the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, a significant period of the year for both ecology and society. Join SFS Chile in the rugged landscape of Southern Patagonia, at 51 °S latitude, for a deeply interdisciplinary exploration of how ecology and society intertwine to usher in the new season. Travel to the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park to study how terrestrial and freshwater plants and animals have adapted to meet this yearly challenge in the land of glaciers. Celebrate the indigenous New Year on the night of the Winter Solstice and learn how lifeways adapt to the extreme southern environment. Take time to explore the various facets of winter at the southern end of the Americas. 

  • Visit Torres del Paine National Park, where you’ll see guanacos, flightless ñandús, and traverse the broadleaf evergreen forests near the ice wall of the Grey Glacier. 
  • Embark on a multi-day expedition to El Calafate, Argentina, where you will explore Los Glaciares National Park, Laguna Nimez Municipal Ecological Reserve, and Perito Moreno Glacier – one of the largest glaciers in Argentina. 
  • Celebrate We Tripantu – the winter solstice – and learn about Kawésqar indigenous knowledge during the longest night. 

Application deadline:
April 1
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This academically rigorous program follows a six-day/week schedule. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to help students actively discover and understand the complexities of environmental, social, and economic issues in Chile. Read more about the SFS program model. Major academic themes include:

  • Interdisciplinary critical thinking
  • Socio-ecology, conservation, and globalization
  • Winter ecology
  • Climate change and biodiversity loss
  • Southern Hemisphere high-latitude indigenous cultures
  • Conservation challenges posed by climate change and resource extraction


On the Patagonian Winter program, you will take one 4-credit course. This course is participatory in nature and is designed to foster inquiry and active learning combining lectures, field exercises, assignments, and tests. This course is taught in English. Check back soon for the course description and syllabus.

SFS 3282
Patagonian Winter
4 Credits

SFS 3282 Patagonian Winter (4 Credits)

The Patagonian winter is a defining aspect of the ecological and social systems of the region. This course will examine the different ways that winter affects human and non-human systems. This course brings you to the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park in the stillness of winter to observe the camelid guanacos and flightless ñandús as they get ready for the approaching winter. The shortening days drive changes in the ranching practices in the estancias in the area as they move their livestock to winter pastures. The approaching Winter Solstice also connects indigenous communities as they make ready for the coming New Year. Finally, the winter brings the season when glaciers would normally be recovering their mass. However, climate change is creating changes in all of these interactions. This course covers past adaptations to historic winter climates, from plant and animal community distributions and the human settlement patterns driven by climate conditions for the maintenance of communities.  

View Syllabus

Core Skills

You will be challenged to examine the natural phenomenon of the Winter Solstice through various lenses – physical, social, and ecological – within the context of Southern Patagonia. This interdisciplinary approach will teach you a variety of skills, including interdisciplinary system-thinking around conservation, key informant interviewing, aquatic macroinvertebrate sampling in freezing glacial rivers, and landscape observation of rugged Patagonian steppes, forests, wetlands, and rivers.

Field Sites

You will visit locations and meet people that will help provide context to explore the implications and impacts of the coming of winter and the longest night of the year. This includes visiting Patagonian ranches (estancias) in the hills and forests of Southern Patagonia, hiking through the forests, along the rivers, and up to glaciers in Torres del Paine National Park, and learning from Kawesqar and Mapuche-Williche people living in the region.

What Students Are Saying:

“Here at SFS Chile, mountains are not just a pretty backdrop. Forests are not mere scenery to gaze at. Parks are not boxes to be checked on a to-visit list. They are lecture halls and laboratories, sources of knowledge and reflection and inspiration. I have had unique opportunities to dive in firsthand and experience these landscapes for what they were, what they are today, and how they will continue to change.”
– Jack, Dickinson College

“There is a magic about Torres del Paine that makes even the steepest of hills at 5am bearable, when the stars shine overhead, the Torres lie before you, and a first peek of the sun is visible over the horizon.”
– Cayley, Mount Holyoke College

“This semester has flown by quicker than expected and I am honestly quite sad to return to the states. I am going to miss the constant field work and classroom time spent outside of the actual classroom. I love being able to learn about the ecosystem and then be able to spend time in it. A full circle.”
– Luke, North Carolina State University


Where You'll Be Living

Surrounded by the jagged peaks of Cerro Dorotea and the deep blue waters of the Señoret Channel lies the port city of Puerto Natales, the gateway to the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park. Located in the heart of this tourist hub is the SFS Center for Climate Studies, your home base for expeditions throughout the region.

  • Up to 6-person, dorm-style rooms with shared bathrooms
  • Classroom and student lounge
  • Kitchen and dining room, and on-site cooking staff
  • Just a few blocks from the town square, shops, and cafes of Puerto Natales
  • Short walk to the Señoret Channel, a scenic fjord with views of the Andes
Click here to read stories from students, staff, and faculty on our blog


Program Costs

Study abroad is an investment in yourself – you’ll return home with new experiences, skills, knowledge, and friendships that will stay with you for the rest of your life. SFS program costs cover a variety of expenses, including:

  • Pre-program advising and on-site orientation
  • Tuition and research fees
  • Housing at the field station and on excursions
  • Daily meals and snacks
  • Airport transfers (for arrival/departure)
  • Field excursions and cultural activities
  • Student success and wellness team on site
  • 24/7 mental health and well-being support
  • Emergency evacuation and repatriation insurance
  • Official transcript processing

View the Chile Program Costs

Financial Aid

SFS Financial Aid: Need-based aid packages typically consist of a combination of scholarships, grants, and zero- and low-interest loans. SFS matches Federal Pell Grant funding for students applying to an SFS semester program.

Home School Aid: Be sure to ask your home school study abroad office or financial aid office what financial aid resources might be available to support your study abroad experience.

External Funding Opportunities: Organizations such as the Fund for Education Abroad or the Gilman International Scholarship Program award scholarships to students going abroad. These can be a great opportunity to reduce the cost of your program even more.
Learn More about Financial Aid




The research agenda at the SFS Center for Climate Studies mirrors the goals of the Chilean government’s 2017 national plan on climate change. This plan identifies four themes for action: adaptation, mitigation, means of implementation, and climate change management on the regional and communal levels. Students work with community members, NGOs, and local landholders to measure and observe vulnerable ecosystems as Patagonian climatic conditions continue to change.

Our research focuses primarily on the following themes:

  • Climate change impacts and resilience
  • Conservation policy
  • Glacial and freshwater dynamics
  • Aquaculture and aquatic ecology
  • Alpine and post-glacial ecology
  • Protected areas management


Puerto Natales, Chile

SFS is a newer member of the Puerto Natales community, where we have been based since Fall 2018.

We are in the process of establishing our program and building relationships with the community. In the past few semesters, students have participated in volunteer projects, assisted in local conservation initiatives, and played sports in town.

At the end of each semester program, we host a Community Research Night where select students will present their research findings to the community. SFS research data is shared with the community, local NGOs, and the Chilean government.

Read stories from students and staff

Meet the Chile Team

Paola Goich

Program Manager
Meet Paola

Shaw Nozaki Lacy, Ph.D.

Lead Faculty, Resident Lecturer in Patagonian Ecology
Meet Shaw

Francisco Javier Aguirre González, Ph.D.

Resident lecturer of Earth System and Climate Science
Meet Francisco

Ma. Rafaela Retamal Díaz, Ph.D.

Resident Lecturer in Political and Social Dimensions of Conservation
Meet Rafaela

Paola Mancilla

Program Assistant
Meet Paola