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Special Research Scientist
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Marine Geology and Geophysics


Fields of interest: 
i. geoscience learning and education; ii. spatial thinking in geosciences, spatial thinking; iii. environmental journalism, science journalism; iv. diversity in geosciences; v. marine geology.

My training and early career were in the field of marine geology. I worked to understand the tectonic and geological evolution of the Mediterranean region, and to unravel the sequence of events and underlying processes leading towards a massive continent-continent collision between Africa and Eurasia. To this end, I used deep-sea drilling to reconstruct the growth history of the Tyrrhenian Basin, high-resolution seafloor mapping and sampling to document compressional deformation across the Mediterranean Ridge, and Global Positioning System geodesy to measure active deformation in the Aegean Basin. A second line of research concerned the structure and tectonics of oceanic transform faults. My goals were both to understand how strike-slip plate boundaries develop and evolve, and also to take advantage of the perturbation introduced by the transform boundary to learn about the fundamental accretion processes and architecture of the oceanic crust. These inquiries lead me to the Tamayo, Siqueiros and Clipperton transform faults in the Pacific, and to the Vema Fracture Zone in the Atlantic. All told, I led or participated in 26 major oceanographic research cruises, and 3 GPS geodesy campaigns.

For the last ten years and into the foreseeable future, my professional goals center around improving the public's understanding and appreciation of Earth systems. I am engaged on four fronts, working to reach the public and improve geoscience learning through: (1) journalists, (2) teachers, (3) information technology, and (4) science of learning research. In our society, journalists are the educators who provide just-in-time-learning opportunities for political and business decision-makers, voters, and consumers. In 1996, I established the Earth & Environmental Science Journalism dual masters degree program (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/eesj/), in collaboration with the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. From 2000-2005, I ran a program to increase the quality, accuracy and visibility of environmental coverage reaching minority communities. Current and future teachers are the pathway to reach the next generation of citizens and decision makers. I co-developed a course called "Teaching & Learning Concepts in Earth Science, " which is taught to a mixed audience of Earth & Environmental Science PhD students who wish to teach geoscience at the college level, and Teachers College masters students who have some experience teaching Earth Science at the pre-college level.

Education has long functioned as a cottage industry, in which individual craftspeople handcraft individual products for distribution to their local communities. The Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE) holds out the potential of a paradigm shift, in which educators craft educational resources in their area of greatest expertise and interest, and draw upon a national library of high-quality, rigorously-reviewed learning and teaching materials for teaching and learning about other topics. My part of developing DLESE is the Community Review System (crs.dlese.org). One category of learning task on which technology brings high added value is in translating from one representation of reality to another. I developed "Where are We?" to help elementary school children learn to "translate" back and forth between their visually-perceived environment and a map. Science of Learning Research in the Geosciences seeks to explain how the human brain comprehends something as big, old and complicated as the Earth system. I am investigating the mistakes and misconceptions that children display as they attempt to "translate?" from an environment to a map of that environment, and how well climate forecast maps succeed in their goal of communicating complex information to climate stakeholders. Finally, I am studying how people visualize a three-dimensional geological structure from the very limited information available in the field, using a network of "artificial outcrops" around the Lamont campus.

Some of my projects include:

  • Earth & Environmental Science Journalism ( details )
  • Map Tutorial - Why some students have trouble with maps and other spatial representations ( details )
  • How do geology and geoscience students make a mental model of a 3-D geological structure from the limited information in outcropts? ( details )



List of degrees from highest to lowest:
Scripps Institute of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego
Bachelor of Arts
Yale University
Honors & Awards: 
American Geophysical Union Excellence in Geophysical Education Award May, 2009
NSF award for "Visiting Professorship for Women in Science" at Yale University 09/01/86

Lamont Projects:

Referenced in the Following News Items:

Selected Publications:

Eliciting self-explanations improves children's performance on a field-based map skills task, Kastens, K. A.; Liben, L. S. Cognition and Instruction Volume: 25 Issue: 1 p.: 45-74 (2007)
To What Extent Should Human/Environment Interactions Be Included in Science Education? Kastens, K.; Turrin, M. Journal of Geoscience Education Volume: 54 Issue: 3 p.: 422-436 (2006)
Spatial Thinking in the Geosciences and Cognitive Sciences Kastens, K. A.; Ishikawa, T. In Earth and Mind (2005)
The Vema Transverse Ridge (Central Atlantic) Kastens, K.; Bonatti, E.; Caress, D.; Carrara, G.; Dauteuil, O.; Frueh-Green, G.; Ligi, M.; Tartarotti, P. Marine Geophysical Researches Volume: 20 Issue: 6 p.: 533-+ (1998)
Odp Leg-107 in the Tyrrhenian Sea - Insights into Passive Margin and Back-Arc Basin Evolution Kastens, K.; Mascle, J.; Auroux, C.; Bonatti, E.; Broglia, C.; Channell, J.; Curzi, P.; Emeis, K. C.; Glacon, G.; Hasegawa, S.; Hieke, W.; Mascle, G.; Mccoy, F.; Mckenzie, J.; Mendelson, J.; Muller, C.; Rehault, J. P.; Robertson, A.; Sartori, R.; Sprovier Geological Society of America Bulletin Jul Volume: 100 Issue: 7 p.: 1140-1156 (1988)