EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The Secrets of Rocks: using the geologic heritage of the Pan de Azúcar National Park for earth science communication in the Atacama desert, Chile. 

Javiera Ruz-Ginouves1,2, Antonia Cornejo3, Francisca Aguilera4, Gerd Sielfeld1,5, and Felipe Aron1,6
Javiera Ruz-Ginouves et al.
  • 1Ingeniería Estructural y Geotécnica, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile (
  • 2Geology Department, University of Otago, New Zealand
  • 3Biodiversidad Chilena, Chile
  • 4Apacheta Geoturismo, Chile
  • 5Cirrus SPA, Chile
  • 6Research Center for Integrated Disaster Risk Management (CIGIDEN)

Being aware of the geological processes that shape our planet is fundamental for the sustainability of our communities. For example, in active tectonic regions such as the Chilean Andes, where earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and flash floods occur frequently, understanding these processes is vital to act resiliently against them. However, it is frequent that the population outside of the scientific world is not necessarily familiar with these topics, leaving a knowledge gap that must be covered.      

Because of its exceptional characteristics to showcase part of the geological evolution of the Andes, we designed and constructed a didactic and interactive geologic exhibition of the Pan de Azúcar National Park in the Atacama Region of Chile, where visitors can have a memorable experience and learn about geological concepts whilst using the same resources the park has to offer. The Park is a protected area in the coast of the most arid desert in the world, hosting endemic plants, mammals, and birds, such as cacti, guanacos, and Humboldt penguins respectively. These unique species and the desertic coastal landscapes are thus the park’s main attractions, receiving nearly 10.000 visitors every year. However, its most striking, yet unrecognized feature, is the privileged display of rocks that tell a story of 300 million years, representing the most fundamental geological processes in the formation of the Andes. From Palaeozoic metamorphic rocks that tell the story of an ancient subduction zone, Permo-Triassic igneous rocks that represent the roots of an old volcanic arc and its violent eruptions, Mesozoic limestones bursting with Jurassic wildlife fossils, to unconsolidated sedimentary deposits related to flash floods that affected northern Chile in 2015, the park has an immense value for education and research in the Earth Sciences.

The exhibit consists of two main spaces: (a) a geological trail along an outdoor rock garden, where large, up to 3 tons rocks of the main geologic units of the Park are displayed, and (b) an interactive indoor exhibition. The latter is equipped with a lab where visitors can explore the properties of rocks, minerals and fossils, and relate that knowledge to that they can observe in the park. This project, CIENCIA PÚBLICA-1201219 was developed through national public funds, with the active participation of public, private and academic institutions throughout the design, construction and implementation process. The geological content of the exhibition was originally produced throughout 4 semesters of the Capstone Field Geology course at PUC, designed so that the knowledge acquired could be transferred to society. Moreover, early and active incorporation of educators, park rangers, tour guides, tourists and the local community was considered to determine the needs of the target audience and increase the impact of the exhibition in younger generations of the local community. Connection with the audience and the collaboration between the Chilean National Parks Service (CONAF), local authorities and communities, Earth scientists, and the tourism industry , was essential to the success of this project, and is suggested as a requirement for the development of similar projects elsewhere.

How to cite: Ruz-Ginouves, J., Cornejo, A., Aguilera, F., Sielfeld, G., and Aron, F.: The Secrets of Rocks: using the geologic heritage of the Pan de Azúcar National Park for earth science communication in the Atacama desert, Chile. , EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-10473,, 2023.