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A changing climate

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Katerina Gonzales
(Photo credit: Steve Castillo)

Katerina Gonzales

PhD Student
Earth System Science

December 6, 2019

From a young age, Kat Gonzales was always looking to the sky. “I was fascinated with learning about what happened in the sky, with the weather, with rain, things like that. I remember dreaming about tornadoes when I was growing up.” Gonzales even built her own weather station at age 7. “That was the first time I started learning to take measurements. I didn’t find it particularly exciting and gave up after two days, which is why I’m more of a data analyzer now. But it enhanced my interest in understanding how weather worked.”

Today, Gonzales’s research is focused on studying atmospheric rivers on the west coast. These “rivers in the sky” have a huge impact on rain and snowfall. Atmospheric rivers are tied closely to flood risks, water supply and they’re also incredibly windy and can knock down trees and power lines. She works with massive data sets and models that are publicly available to learn new things about atmospheric rivers. “In many ways, I’m essentially a data scientist. I discover new patterns about the atmosphere with data that already exists. Part of my dissertation is quantifying how atmospheric rivers – which are often related to high-impact climate events – have already been affected by climate change.” 

Gonzales is passionate not only about understanding climate change but also promoting systemic change in higher education. She believes that issues of equity, justice and inclusion should start at communities like Stanford in order to lead change in the broader Earth sciences community. In addition to being involved with the Women in Earth Sciences (WES) organization, she also spearheaded a new course in 2018 called EARTH203: Diversity and Inclusion in the Geosciences (DIG) alongside another graduate student. “There was such a need for a space where community members could grapple with the literature about the state of diversity in the geosciences.” The course addresses issues including identity, bias, sexism, racism and ableism, and how to design for inclusion. Students imagine tangible steps that could be taken to enhance inclusive learning spaces and champion diversity on campus. “Striving for a more inclusive community is not only necessary for positive change in higher education, it also helps us to contribute to the urgent crisis of climate change. We need all hands on deck to combat these issues, and it’s essential that we transform our academic environments so that everyone can thrive.”