Kirsten Nicolaysen with foggy mountain in background

Professor of Geology

Hall of Science, Rm. 108
(509) 527-4934


A Wyoming native who feels most at home in the sage-brushed sandhills of the Powder River Basin, Kirsten Nicolaysen's professional training includes roaming volcanoes from the sub-Arctic to the sub-Antarctic. As an undergraduate at Colorado College, Nicolaysen participated in a KECK consortium geology project to investigate Mt. McLoughlin, one of the southern Cascades volcanoes. Thoroughly enspelled by igneous geochemistry and active volcanoes, she pursued research in the Aleutian Islands for a master's degree at University of Wyoming.

During her doctoral work, Nicolaysen participated in two research cruises: the first to investigate the Southeast Indian Ridge near the islands of Amsterdam and St. Paul and the second to drill into the Kerguelen Plateau, the second largest igneous province on Earth. Nicolaysen has taught at Lawrence University and then for four years at Kansas State University. Between these teaching positions, she was a visiting research professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles (U.L.B.) in Belgium. Currently her NSF-funded research focuses on the record of volcanic activity in the Aleutian arc and, in collaboration with archeology colleagues, explores how these volcanoes provided resources and challenges for the Unangax people during prehistory.

Yearly, Nicolaysen designs and mentors student-centered research projects and some of these are in support of Whitman College's affiliation with the Keck Geology Consortium ( ). Students pursue field and lab-based experiences to develop their senior thesis and present their work at the Whitman Undergraduate Conference in April every year and sometimes at regional and national geoscience meetings. Many of these students have chosen to attend graduate school in the geosciences or obtain a professional degree in a health-related field or architecture.

Nicolaysen's teaching preparation has ranged from attending intensive workshops sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the National Association of Geoscience Teachers to reading pedagogical literature. Her approach to teaching is to engage and direct students through the learning experience using hands-on experiments, semester research projects and discussion of case studies. In 2011 she helped organize the Cutting Edge Workshop on Teaching Mineralogy, Petrology, and Geochemistry and served as an associate editor to review related online teaching resources.

GENS 176 Powerful Arguments - Climate Change: Earth Time, Human Experience
A first-year seminar to engage in analytical writing emphasizing CO2 mitigation.

GEOL 158/358 - Regional Geology (Newberry Caldera, Mt. St. Helens, Owyhee)
A 4-day field trip for students to synthesize concepts and practice field skills.

GEOL 270 – Minerals, Society, and the Environment
A mineralogy course with societally-relevant case studies.

GEOL 405 – Volcanoes and the Solid Earth
An igneous and metamorphic petrology course with microscopy.

GEOL 490/498 - Senior research / Honors thesis

Less frequently I teach the courses below:

GEOL 125/126 - Environmental Geology & Lab
The introductory geology course I teach on a rotating schedule.

GEOL 340 – Volcanoes
A volcanology course that may have an off-campus field component.

GEOL 460 – Geochemistry
Includes thermodynamics, partitioning, geochronology and reading scientific literature.

I have co-authored 30+ publicationson topics ranging from Aleutian volcanism, Unangan lithic tools, the geochronology of the Kerguelen hotspot, to isotopic compositions of Southeast Indian Ridge basalts.* indicates an undergraduate student co-author

Power, J.., Roman, D., Lyons, J., Haney, M.M., Rasmussen, D., Plank, T., Nicolaysen, K., Izbekov, P., Werner, C., Kaufman, M., Volcanic Seismicity Beneath Chuginadak Island, Alaska (Cleveland and Tana Volcanoes): Implications for Magma Dynamics and Eruption Forecasting, submittedJ. Volcanology and Geothermal Research, August 2020.

Hatfield, V., Nicolaysen, K., West, D.L., Krylovich, O., Bruner, K., Savinetky, A., Vasyukov, D., MacInnes, B.T., Khasanov, B., Persico, L., Okuno, M., 2019, Human resilience and resettlement among the Islands of Four Mountains, Aleutians, Alaska: Quaternary Research, doi: 10.1017/qua.2018.149.

Persico, L., Lanman*, H., Loopesko*, L., Bruner, K., Nicolaysen, K., 2018, Geomorphic processes influence human settlement on two islands in the Islands of Four Mountains, AK: Quaternary Research, p. 1-19, doi:10.1017/qua.2018.112.
Lerner*, A.H., Crowley, P.D., Nicolaysen, K., and Hazlett, R.W., 2018, Stratigraphy, distribution, and evidence for mafic recharge triggering of the ca. 8.5 ka Driftwood Pumice, Makushin Volcano, Alaska: Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, v. 357, p. 362-377.

Okuno, M., Izbekov, P., Nicolaysen, K., Nakamura, T., Savinetky, A., Vasyukov, D., Krylovich, O., Khasanov, B., Miranda*, J., Persico, L., Hatfield, V., West, D., Bruner, K., 2017, AMS radiocarbon dates on peat section related with tephra and archaeological sites in Carlisle Island, The Islands of Four Mountains, Alaska: Radiocarbon, v. 59, 1771-1778. doi:10.1017/RDC.2017.130.

Hatfield, V., Bruner, K., West, D., Savinetky, A., Krylovich, O., Khasanov, B., Vasyukov, D., Antipushina, Z., Okuno, M., Crockford, S., Nicolaysen, K., MacInnes, B., Persico, L., Izbekov, P., Neal, C., Bartlett III*, T., Loopesko*, L., Fulton*, A., 2017, At the Foot of the Smoking Mountain: The 2014 Archaeological Investigations in the Islands of Four Mountains: Arctic Anthropologist, v. 53, p. 141-159.

Bader, N.E., Nicolaysen, K.P., Lopez-Maldonado, R., Murray, K.E., Mudd, A.C., 2015, Extensive middle Miocene weathering interpreted from a well-preserved paleosol, Cricket Flat, Oregon, USA: Geoderma, v. 239-240, p. 195-205. doi: 10.1016/j.geoderma.2014.10.007.

Nicolaysen, K., Johnson*, T., Wilmerding, El., Hatfield, V., West, D., McGimsey, G., 2012, Provenance of obsidian fragments recovered from Adak Island, central Aleutian Islands: Evidence for long-distance transport of lithic material, in West, D., Hatfield, V., Wilmerding, E., Gualtieri, L., and Lefevre, C., eds., The People Before: The Geology, Paleoecology and Archaeology of Adak Island, Alaska. Oxford, British Archaeological Reports International Series 2322, p. 195-210.

Chatterjee, N., and Nicolaysen, K., 2011, An intercontinental correlation of the mid-Neoproterozoic Eastern Indian Tectonic Zone: evidence from the gneissic clasts in Elan Bank conglomerate, Kerguelen Plateau: Contributions to Mineralogy and Petrology, doi: 10.1007/s00410-011-0699-z.

Nicolaysen, K.P., F.A. Frey, J.J. Mahoney, K.T.M. Johnson, D.W. Graham, 2007, Influence of the Amsterdam/St. Paul hotspot along the Southeast Indian Ridge between 77˚ and 88˚E: Correlations of Sr, Nd, Pb and He isotopic variations with ridge segmentation: Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, (G-Cubed), #2006GC001540R.

Nicolaysen, K., and Ritterbush, L., 2005, Critical thinking in geology and archaeology: interpreting scanning electron images of a lithic tool: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, p. 166-172.

Nicolaysen, K., Bowring, S., Frey, F.A., Weis, D., Ingle, S., Pringle, M.S., Coffin, M.F., and the Leg 183 Shipboard Scientific Party, 2001, Provenance of Proterozoic garnet-biotite gneiss recovered from Elan Bank, Kerguelen Plateau, southern Indian Ocean: Geology, v. 29, p. 235-238.

Nicolaysen, K., Frey, F.A., Hodges, K.V., Weis, D., Giret, A., 2000, 40Ar/39Ar Geochronology of flood basalts, from the Kerguelen Archipelago, southern Indian Ocean: Implications for Cenozoic eruption rates of the Kerguelen Plume: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 174, p. 313-328.