Robert M. Kosanke

1917 to 1996

Robert M. KosankeRobert M. Kosanke had a major influence on the growth of palynology throughout his career, which spanned the early 1940s to the early 1990s. He also greatly contributed to other branches of paleobotany and coal geology.

Kosanke became interested in paleobotany while taking an undergraduate class at Coe College in Iowa taught by L.R. Wilson, a pioneer in American palynology. Wilson and Kosanke began studying pollen from interglacial peat deposits but soon switched to coal palynology. Kosanke started graduate work at the University of Cincinnati under J.H. Hoskins. His M.S. thesis was the first palynological study of coals in the Appalachian coal region. Kosanke joined the Coal Section of the Illinois State Geological Survey and took over James Schopf's duties when Schopf left for the Bureau of Mines in 1943. Kosanke completed his doctorate on Mazostachys in l952 under Wilson Stewart at the University of Illinois.

At the Survey, Kosanke was the first to establish a framework for correlating coals by use of palynology through the entire Pennsylvanian System in an entire basin. This study, which included the description of nineteen spore genera and more than 100 new species, became a basic reference for Pennsylvanian palynology. Because of his broad interest in coal geology and stratigraphy, he coauthored the Classification of Pennsylvanian Strata in Illinois, which became the standard reference for Pennsylvanian stratigraphy in Illinois for many years. While working at the Illinois Geological Survey, Kosanke received a part-time appointment in the Botany Department in 1958 and taught a class in palynology.

Kosanke joined the Paleontology and Stratigraphy Branch of the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver in l963. While there, he provided palynological correlations to aid coal studies and mapping in eastern Kentucky. The palynological investigation of the Pennsylvanian stratotype section in West Virginia was a major research project.

Throughout his professional life, Kosanke shared his expertise in palynology, coal geology, and stratigraphy with colleagues in many countries. He attended many national and international conferences and served on committees on palynology, coal petrology, coal classification, and biostratigraphy. Kosanke was a member of numerous professional organizations and was Secretary of the Coal Research Committee of the Society of Economic Geologists. He helped establish the Coal Geology Division of the Geological Society of America.

Kosanke received many honors, including the Geological Society of America Cady Award, the U.S. Geological Survey Meriteous Service Award, and a Paleobotanical award at the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Botanical Society of America.

Kosanke was true gentleman and scholar and remained humble throughout his career. He was careful, well disciplined, and dedicated to his research. He willingly shared his knowledge with colleagues. He devoted considerable time to teaching and was an advisor to several graduate students. He used his many talents to serve in various capacities with scientific, academic, and governmental organizations.

Honored by: 
Jack A. Simon and Russel A. Peppers
Citation Contributed by: 
Russel A. Peppers
A more complete biography can be found in his GSA memorial, v. 29, 1998.