AUGUSTA (NEWS CENTER Maine) – Geologist Gary Lewis has spent decades studying rocks, particularly how they relate to volcanic activity.
“I spend most of my time looking at rocks,” Lewis said.
Lewis, an Australian native, has done research all over the world and here in Maine, including rock formations that show volcanoes existed here more than 200 million years ago.
The recent eruptions of Mt. Kilauea in Hawaii that forced the evacuation of thousands have Lewis concerned for residents of the island, but also excited about what it means for science.
“There's part of me that wanted to be on the first plane to fly over,” he said.
Lewis travels with groups of paying sightseers several times a year to get up close and personal with the volcanoes of Hawaii.
"As a person that loves volcanoes, and in particular loves Kilauea and the volcanoes of Hawaii, this is exciting beyond belief," Lewis said.
Unlike much of the volcanic activity around the world, Hawaii’s is not caused by moving plates beneath the earth’s surface.
The island chain was formed over millions and millions of years by what is called a ‘hotspot’ or a weak spot in the Pacific Plate. That weak spot allows magma to flow to the top and form each island.
As the plate has shifted over the years, different locations have moved over the hotspot, which is why the largest island now over the hotspot is the newest island and the only one with active volcanoes, including Kilauea.
Lewis said this activity could help scientists like him have a better understanding of the volcanoes. He said it could even help him understand the volcanic history in Maine.
"Having a volcano that we can study to learn how volcanoes work really helps us to go back and study the remnant volcanoes that we've got here in Maine,” he said.
Lewis’s next trip with a group of teachers is still scheduled for July. Not all visitors have the same level of commitment. As officials say the volcano shows no signs of stopping, the island is expected to lose significant tourism revenue due to cancellations.