Kathleen Counter Benison

Associate Professor of Geology

West Virginia University


Sedimentary Geology, Geochemistry, and Geomicrobiology

        When I was in junior high school, my teacher Mr. Mayhew brought my class to Nantasket Beach, just south of Boston.  I had visited this beach countless times as a child. 

I especially loved exploring the rocks at the south end of the beach.  On this field trip, Mr. Mayhew pointed out pillow basalts in this outcrop and told us that they were evidence of past lava that erupted under water.  I was amazed!  This idea that one can picture past environments by “reading the rocks” intrigued me greatly and led to my career as a geologist.

       My research program focuses on deciphering past environmental conditions and diagenetic histories, past weather and climate, and past life from ancient terrestrial and martian sedimentary rocks.  This work relies on the study of interactions among waters, rocks, sediments, atmosphere, and life in modern environments.  Much of my work includes field work and/or core studies, as well as petrographic and fluid inclusion studies in the lab. I am 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 result in redbeds and evaporites.