Professors’ expedition to Argentina results in new insights, opportunities

OGDEN, Utah — Two professors from Weber State University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences spent their winter break on an expedition to Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America with a summit elevation of 22,837 feet.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Balgord and Assistant Professor Nicolás Pérez-Consuegra traveled with a group through Aconcagua’s 360 route to collect samples of sedimentary rocks and snow from glaciers for research on geological history and glacier pollution.

Elizabeth Balgord and Nicolas PĂ©rez-Consuegra smile for a picture on Aconcagua. There are patches of snow on the mountain and no vegetation.Traveling through Aconcagua was no easy task. Each day, they’d hike for hours to higher elevations and in harsh weather until they arrived at the next camp, where local guides would help them secure food and water.

“This was a completely new environment for me, so seeing the landscapes and active earth processes was very rewarding," Pérez-Consuegra said. “It was also an interesting balance between surviving every day and doing the fieldwork.”

The rock samples they collected will provide new insight into the history and formation of the Andes mountain belt. Students at WSU also have the opportunity to help with these discoveries by processing and dating the samples collected.

“There are really direct comparisons between what’s happening today in South America and what was happening here in the geological past because the Rocky Mountains formed in the same way as the Andes," Balgord said. “Comparing the areas allows us to better understand how these types of mountain belts evolve, which can provide more information on geologic hazards and where to find resources.”

The samples collected from Aconcagua’s glaciers will allow them to identify pollutants and determine how they affect melting rates.

Both research projects are part of a larger collaboration between other universities and groups around the world.

Balgord and Pérez-Consuegra are also working on creating virtual tours of Aconcagua for students, Argentine park rangers and guides. The virtual tours will contain videos with information about each location in English and Spanish, which students can then use during class activities and assignments. 

“The area is a great place to showcase a bunch of geologic features that in other places would be kind of hidden by vegetation,” Balgord said. “You can read a description, but it’s good to be able to actually look at a location, and the virtual trips provide 360 images.”

Balgord and Pérez-Consuegra also explored the area to organize a future study abroad trip for students to Mendoza, Argentina. The trip will allow students to experience and learn about the landscape while they help improve some of the virtual tours. 


Erika Gonzalez Lara, Marketing & Communications 


Bryan Magaña, public relations director