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Kathleen Benison


Kathy uses sedimentary geology, geochemistry, and geomicrobiology to study the deposition and diagenesis of continental evaporites and red beds. Her active research projects include modern acid saline lake systems in Western Australia and Chile, their Permian analog deposits in the U.S. midcontinent, and similar systems on Mars.

Red Earth Observatory Lab

Education: PhD in Geology, University of Kansas, 1997


Kathy's research program deciphers past environmental conditions and diagenetic histories, past weather and climate, and past life from ancient continental and martian sedimentary strata.  This work relies on the study of interactions among waters, rocks, sediments, atmosphere, and life in modern environments.  Kathy  and her students use a comparative sedimentology approach to describe processes and products in modern environments and then compare to ancient sedimentary rocks to interpret past environmental processes and conditions.  Kathy's work includes field work, core studies, petrographic observations, fluid inclusion studies, and geochemical analyses. She is particularly interested in modern and ancient acid saline lake and groundwater systems, which are amongst the most extreme environments on Earth in terms of water chemistry and hospitable environments for life, and result in red beds and evaporites, and are terrestrial analogs for some strata on Mars.


  • GEOL 311: Stratigraphy and Sedimentation

  • GEOL 411W: Deep-Time Earth Systems
  • GEOL 591: Sedimentary Petrology


Recent Publications: 

  • Andeskie, A.S. and Benison, K.C., in press (2019), Using sedimentology to address the marine or continental origin of the Permian Hutchinson Salt Member of Kansas: Sedimentology.
  • Johnson, S.S., Millan, M., Graham, H., Benison, K.C., Williams, A., McAdam, A., Knudson, C., Andrejkovicova, S., and Achilles, C., in press (2019), Lipid Biomarkers in ephemeral acid salt lake mudflat/sandflat sediments: Implications for Mars: Astrobiology.
  • Benison, K.C., 2019, How to search for life in martian chemical sediments and their fluid and solid inclusions using petrographic and spectroscopic methods: Frontiers in Environmental Science, v. 7, article 108, doi:103389/fenvs.2019.00108. 
  • Schulmeister, M.K., Andeskie, A.S., and Benison, K.C., 2019, The science and industry of the Permian Hutchinson Salt, in Schulmeister, M.K. and Aber, J.S., eds., Exploring Extreme and Unusual Geology in the Stable Midcontinent: Field Excursions for the 2019 GSA South-Central, North-Central, and Rocky Mountain Sections Joint Meeting: Geological Society of America Field Guide 52, p. 25-35, doi:org/10.1130/2019.0052(02)
  • Benison, K.C., 2019, The physical and chemical sedimentology of two high-altitude acid salars in Chile: Sedimentary processes in an extreme environment: Journal of Sedimentary Research, v. 89, p. 147-167. doi: