Kathleen Surpless, Ph.D.

"My goal is to teach students how to think critically and analytically about the world around them; in short, how to think as scientists."

- Kathleen Surpless, Ph.D.

I grew up in upstate New York and went to college in Massachusetts before moving west to California for graduateschool. I still head west every summer to continue my research, bringing students with me to the mountains of California, Oregon, Washington, and southern British Columbia. My research addresses two major questions: (1) what can the information contained in sedimentary rocks and the basins in which these rocks formed tell us about what was happening on Earth?; and (2) can we determine how ancient sedimentary basins formed and evolved?

Because petroleum, natural gas, and coal formed in ancient sedimentary basins, researching these questions is critical for targeting energy resource exploration. Also, the success of current efforts to capture carbon and store it underground depends on a detailed understanding of the layering and structure below the surface. Finally, these are fundamental research questions because sedimentary basins are essential to understanding the formation and destruction of past mountains and ocean basins, changing climates, and the evolution of life. My research focus is on sedimentary basins in the Cordilleran mountain belt of the western United States and Canada.


  • Surpless, Kathleen D., and Augsburger, G. A., 2009, "Provenance of the Pythian Cave conglomerate, northern California: Implications for mid-Cretaceous paleogeography of the U.S. Cordillera." Cretaceous Research, vol. 30, p. 1181-1192.
  • Surpless, Kathleen D., Ward, R.W., and Graham, S.A., 2009, "Sedimentology and facies architecture of slope gully deposits, Monterey Formation (Miocene), Gaviota Beach, California." Marine and Petroleum Geology, vol. 26, p. 269-288.
  • Surpless, Kathleen D., Graham, S. A., Covault, J. A., and Wooden, J. L., 2006, "Does the Great Valley Group contain Jurassic strata? Reevaluation of the age and early evolution of a classic forearc basin."Geology, v. 34, no. 1, p. 21-24.

Grants and Awards

I have been awarded grants from the American Chemical Society's Petroleum Research Fund and from the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program to support my research in Cretaceous basins of the North American Cordillera. These grants, totaling more than $450,000, enable a closer integration of my research and teaching and have allowed me to expand my research focus and involve more undergraduate students.

Community Service and Involvement

Through Trinity's HHMI-sponsored Science Academy, I co-taught middle school students from three middle schools and two SAISD academies over four days during the Science Academy (Earth Science unit) held at Trinity since 2006. I also worked with elementary and middle school teachers lacking a science background to help them improve both their content knowledge and their understanding of the process of science during Trinity's Science Teaching Institute.

I have served on the Trinity University United Way Committee, Lecturers and Visiting Scholars Committee, Trinity Women in Science and Technology (TWIST) Steering Committee, and the Undergraduate Research Committee. I'm also the Faculty Advisor for Trinity's Sigma Gamma Epsilon chapter and the Geology Club.