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Female with short hair and bangs wears a polo with Mars 2020 insignia on the left

Kathleen Benison

Professor of Geology

Categorized As

Role: Faculty,
Focus or Research Area: Geology,

Sedimentology, Geochemistry, Astrobiology, Salt, Mars — I am interested in understanding the systems interactions among lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere of modern and ancient acid saline lakes on Earth and Mars. This research involves fieldwork, petrography, fluid inclusion studies, sediment geochemistry, and laser Raman spectroscopy, much of it focused on salt minerals.


  • Ph.D. in Geology, University of Kansas, 1997
  • M.A. in Geology, Binghamton University, 1993
  • B.S. in Geology and Chemistry, Bridgewater State College, 1991


  • sedimentary geology, geochemistry, geomicrobiology, paleoclimatology, astrobiology
  • Science Editor of GEOLOGY
  • Return Sample Selection Participating Scientist for Mars 2020 mission
  • Red Earth Observatory Lab

Kathy and her research students use field work, core descriptions, petrography, and fluid inclusion studies to decipher the deposition and diagenesis of continental red beds and evaporites, including roles of weather and climate, water geochemistry, and microbiology. Active research projects include modern acid saline lake systems in Western Australia and Chile, Permo-Triassic and Proterozoic analog deposits, and similar rocks on Mars.


  • GEOL 101: Planet Earth
  • GEOL 311: Stratigraphy and Sedimentation
  • GEOL 404: Field Camp
  • GEOL 411W: Deep-Time Earth Systems
  • GEOL 591: Sedimentary Petrology
  • GEOL 591: Fluid Inclusions
  • GEOL 593: Chemical Sediments

Selected Recent Publications:

Schreder-Gomes, S.I., Benison, K.C., and Bernau, J.A., 2022, 830 million-year-old microorganisms in primary fluid inclusions in halite: Geology, v. 50, p. 918-922

Andeskie, A.S. and Benison, K.C., 2021, A missing link in mid-late Permian record of northeastern Pangea: A sedimentological evaluation of the Permian Belfast Harbour Evaporite Formation of County Antrim, Northern Ireland: The Depositional Record, v. 7, p. 451-469.

Benison, K.C., O’Neill, W., Blain, D., and Hallsworth, J.E., 2021, Water activities of acid brine lakes approach the limit for life: Astrobiology, v. 21, p. 729-740.

Kipnis, E.L., Bowen, B.B., Hutchings, S.J., Hynek, S.A., and Benison, K.C., 2020, Major ion geochemistry in Na-Ca-Mg-K-Cl-SO4 brines using portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry: Chemical Geology, v. 558, article 119865, 8 p.

Andeskie, A.S. and Benison, K.C., 2020, Using sedimentology to address the marine or continental origin of the Permian Hutchinson Salt Member of Kansas: Sedimentology, v. 67, p. 882-896.

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.

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.


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