Frozen in Stone

Natural Sciences1 MIN READ

At Maine's Pemaquid Point, Associate Professor Bill Sullivan studies past—and future—tectonic activity

BRISTOL, ME – OCTOBER 7: Bill Sullivan, an Associate Professor of Geology, works with his students to study the rocks at Pemaquid Point Wednesday, October 7, 2020. Using Maine as their lab, the students are able to take measurement that demonstrate how the Appalachian Mountains were formed thousands of years ago. (Photo by Gabe Souza/Multimedia Producer)
By Gabe Souza
November 16, 2020

While Maine may not be a hotbed for tectonic activity today, the history embedded in its rocks makes it the perfect classroom for educating the next generation of geologists.

“The deformation that students are seeing in Maine now is similar to what’s happening in earth’s crust 10 or 20 kilometers deep in environments like Sumatra or [other parts of] Indonesia,” said Associate Professor of Geology Bill Sullivan, who specializes in structural geology and tectonics. Unlike Maine in the 21st century, Indonesia has a propensity for earthquakes.

Sullivan employs the rock layers at Pemaquid Point State Park on Maine’s coast as a lab for his course, Earth Structure and Tectonics, enabling students to explore the deformation of earth’s crust at tectonic plates. “We look at the physical and chemical mechanisms that enable rocks to deform,” said Sullivan. “The granitic rocks have been literally smooshed apart and broken and rotated, and that records different components of plate motion.”

In addition to providing insight into tectonic behavior, he said, the research gives students an understanding of their place in the universe. “It gives us a deeper appreciation of our environment and our world.”