Benjamin Surpless, Ph.D.
- Professor , Geosciences
Ben helped facilitate the PETEX Educational Software grant from Petroleum Experts, valued at $2,764,444.11. This software permits students to apply 3D computer numerical modeling to complex fault and fracture systems.
Ben Surpless is a Professor of Geosciences at Trinity, where he teaches courses in Structural Geology, Earth Surface Processes, Global Climate Change, Earth's Environmental Systems, and the First Year Experience, Climate Changed. Ben involves students in his research in western Nevada, western Texas, and southern Utah, where he investigates the geologic evolution of faults, fold systems, and fracture networks
Ben grew up in northern Wisconsin, the son of high school teachers, and went to college at Carleton College in Minnesota before attending graduate school at Stanford University. At Stanford, he combined field and laboratory research to elucidate the evolution of fault systems in western Nevada. At the same time, Ben’s experiences as a teaching assistant began to shape his teaching style, which involves a combination of active, hands-on field and laboratory inquiry, thoughtful discussion, and the use of clear, concise visual examples to accompany complex material.
Ben's current research focuses on two themes in structural geology. In western Nevada, a seismically-active area, he is investigating the role of range-scale segmentation in the evolution of mountainous topography. He asks the question: if a mountain range is segmented, or broken, by a significant fault system, how will subsequent deformation vary as a result? Range-scale segmentation has implications for the propagation of faults and earthquake slip, so can fundamentally affect the assessment of seismic hazard.
In west Texas, Ben focuses on the evolution of coupled fold-fault systems, hoping to understand how deep, unexposed faults affect the layers of rock above them. The well-exposed, folded rocks above these fault systems provide an opportunity to both determine the evolution of the fold as well as the behavior of rock units involved in the folding. The fractures that develop as part of these systems change the permeability of the layers, which has broad application to the flow of both water and petroleum in the subsurface.
In southern Utah, Ben investigates the relationship between complex normal fault systems and the fracture networks that develop as a consequence of fault propagation and slip. As with his research in western Texas, these exposed fault systems permit direct observations of features that are usually deeply buried beneath the surface. By using a combination of fieldwork, fracture analysis, and 3D computer modeling, Ben and his students hope to elucidate how fault and fracture networks evolve, which has significant implications for fluid flow in similar systems in the subsurface.
Dr. Surpless was named the 2020 recipient of the Dr. and Mrs. Z.T. Scott Faculty Fellowship, Trinity's highest honor, in recognition of his outstanding abilities as a teacher and mentor. Ben has also been awarded grants from the National Science Foundation to support his research in southern Utah (active from 2021-2024) west Texas (2012-2016) as well as his work to integrate of teaching and research (2010-2014) here at Trinity University. These grants, totaling more than $490,000, have allowed Ben to expand his research of fault zones and coupled fold-fracture evolution and have supported the involvement of a significant number of undergraduates in his investigations. In 2013, Ben earned Trinity University’s Junior Faculty Teaching and Research Award.
Ben has served on the Faculty Senate and recently served as Chair of Trinity's Quality Enhancement Plan Selection Committee. In addition, Ben organized the Geological Society of America's South-Central Section meeting in San Antonio, which was attended by more than 500 scientists from across the country. He also Co-Chaired Trinity's United Way Campaign, and he has served on the Campus Sustainability committee, the ad-hoc committee to develop a Center for Teaching and Learning, the Student Conduct Review board, the Information Technology Committee, the CEEL Task Force, the Geology Club, and he was part of the successful effort to develop the Environmental Studies major.