A New Doctorate Program in Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic Sciences Launches in Chile 

Mike Kaplan, a researcher from the Earth Observatory of Lamont Doherty at Columbia University, has studied glacial history for 16 years between Puerto Varas and Antarctica. He recently traveled to Chile on a Fulbright scholarship in 2017 to plan content related to climate change, ecosystem ecology, geosystems, and conservation at the University of Magallanes.

The university, located in a glacier-rich area in southernmost Chile, launched a new doctorate program in Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic sciences with Kaplan’s help. The doctorate program began in March 2017 with three students and 23 teachers. Read GlacierHub’s interview with Mike Kaplan about the new doctorate program.

Mike Kaplan with his hosts in Cordillera Darwin (Source: Mike Kaplan).
GlacierHub: In what ways does this new program at the University of Magallanes open up possibilities for collaborations between Chilean researchers and researchers from other countries?

Mike Kaplan: Students being trained at the Ph.D level is different than not having such a program. They obviously will make more effort to interact at an international level compared with undergrads and even master’s students. This includes going to conferences or working with/needing labs and resources outside their country for their Ph.D. research. I am already seeing this. A student starting next year will be working in an isotope lab in Europe as part of her Ph.D. In my opinion, students and postdocs can really help form bridges between groups.

GH: What kind of logistical and institutional support does the University of Magallanes give to glaciological research?

MK: The institutional support is the same as in the U.S., office and home institution. Logistical is also similar to us: write a grant (in their case the National Research Council for Science and Technology, CONICYT), obtain funding, and carry out field research with those either already doing it, or try to go it independently! As glaciers are in their backyard, they encourage such work.

GH: The program hopes to promote Natural Resource Management and Conservation in sub-Antarctic environments. What do you see as important priorities for management and conservation?

Mike Kaplan teaching a field class (Source: Mike Kaplan).
MK: Patagonia, including Tierra del Fuego, is included in the definition of sub-Antarctic environments. So, they are thinking about and concerned with these issues in their backyard. I can see that marine life, for example seals, whales, penguins, and fish, is quite an emphasis at the research level. There are a few institutions based out of Punta Arenas concerned with marine research, not just at the university. Like everywhere, they need to think about over fishing. 

Physical systems (glaciers), and terrestrial ecosystems are obviously important. Tourism is a big cash cow for the region, but obviously they need to manage these environments, such as Torres del Paine which attracts a lot of visitors from all over the world. They are indeed managing the area it seems to me. My understanding is there is not a huge population explosion, but new roads are being paved every year, tourists are coming in, etc. I assume, as elsewhere, there is a balance between encouraging tourism in an relatively poor region of Chile, Patagonia, but they definitely love and appreciate what is in their backyard, and its pristine and unique beauty.

Mike Kaplan with his class (Source: Mike Kaplan).
GH: The glaciology activities form part of the project GAIA Antarctica. What other components of this project have you seen? What are the project’s strengths, and what obstacles, if any, does it face?

MK: I think the biologic and ecologic aspects of GAIA faculty expertise and experience have been very strong. In fact, stronger than the glaciologic activities, on a day to day level. This is my opinion. They have not had as strong history of geology and physical systems, such as geomorphology and glacier records. Except Gino Casassa, the first director of the program, of course. This is actually a niche I have been helping to start to fill in terms of teaching (geology, geomorphology, etc) and geomorph/paleoglacier research. Gino is one of the world’s experts (not just in Chile) in glacier behavior and climate. He has extensive experience and expertise in modern glaciers and climate over instrumental records.

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