Natalie Afonina lives out of her minivan (!), but generally in the Seattle, Washington area as a home base. She splits her time between developing autonomous systems for robotics applications and as a sponsored athlete specializing in technical ice climbing, alpine ascents and remote expeditions. Natalie is passionate about showcasing scientific field work to make it accessible to a broader audience. Mentoring beginner women in ice climbing and computer science. Natalie thinks it is important to live an examined life and constantly adjust your outlook as you get more information, are exposed to new ideas and learn new things. Don’t stagnate. Upwards and onwards!

Natalie studied Materials Science in graduate school, and co-invented a device that actively cools sea ice cores. Twenty of the devices were deployed for a full winter field season in Barrow, Alaska, and I was fortunate to join the expedition. It was a crazy experience of polar bears, pulling sleds through sea ice ridges, -50F temperatures, drilling ice cores, and dealing with all sorts of difficulties brought on by the harsh environmental conditions. Natalie has the utmost respect for all scientists that collect data through field work!

What is citizen science? Why join CSO?

To Natalie, citizen science means ownership and contribution to scientific progress. When we leave academic institutions, it’s easy to start drifting away from the scientific process and get detached from that feeling of awe and discovery that comes from doing science. She sees citizen science as a way to reconnect with and contribute to the broader scientific community, regardless of career choice. To get that feeling of awe back again and give purpose to adventuring.

Natalie joined CSO because, as an ice climber, her outdoor experience and safety is directly linked to climate and weather forecasts. Having organized and participated in several citizen science projects across the world, and studied material science, this project is the perfect combination of her scientific interests and athletic pursuits, and she’s excited to use her athlete platform to get more folks involved across the world in data collection!

As Natalie says, “Do YOU use snow forecasts? Do YOU want to not die in an avalanche? Where do you think the snow and avalanche models come from? SCIENCE. The more data across a diversity of regions that you have, the more data to improve the models. The only way to get this breadth and coverage is through citizen science!”