UH Hilo welcomes new geologist Lis Gallant

New Associate Professor of Geology Lis Gallant comes to UH Hilo from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory where she conducted research on lava and cinder cones from the 2018 Kīlauea eruption.

Cinder cone erupts while scientist takes measurements from a device on a tripod. On the back of the scientist's orange t-shirt in bold letters USGS.
Lis Gallant measures fountain heights during the 2022 eruption of Maunaloa using a laser rangefinder. (Photo courtesy USGS)

This article was originally published Aug. 24, 2023, at Volcano Watch, a weekly article and volcano activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates. Links have been added to the article reposted here.

Lis Gallant pictured in hard hat.
Lis Gallant

Lis Gallant has spent the last two and a half years at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow studying the lava and cinder cones from the 2018 eruption of Kīlauea. She is making a short move up the hill this week to join the Department of Geology at the University of Hawai‘i Hilo as an assistant professor.

Volcanology was not always on the horizon for Gallant when she started her academic journey in Troy, N.Y.

She took courses at Hudson Valley Community College before receiving a bachelor’s degree in electronic media, arts and communications from Renssealer Polytechnic Institute. After several years working in the medical software industry, she returned to school and received a second bachelor’s degree in geology from Buffalo State University.

As an undergrad, Gallant conducted research on tephra deposits of Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador, which helped her discover a passion for science with real-world application. It was after this that she first came to Hawai‘i Island to work at HVO as an intern mapping lava flows on Mauna Loa and assisting in Pu‘u‘ō‘ō eruption response from 2012 to 2013.

Gallant then went to the University of South Florida to pursue master and doctorate degrees in geoscience. Her work focused on developing new computer-based lava flow hazard assessment tools. She also expanded her skill set by working with different kinds of radar to study subtle changes in the shapes of volcanoes and map eruptive deposits below the ground.

Scientist setting up large instrument on the rim of crater.
Lis Gallant deploys a terrestrial radar system during the January 2023 eruption of Kīlauea. This instrument can detect small-scale changes in the shape of the lava lake’s surface and calculate the speed at which those changes are occurring. (Photo courtesy USGS)

In addition to her research, Gallant was an avid teacher while working on her degree, instructing numerous courses and assisting with the University of South Florida’s summer field courses. She taught students from Florida—many of whom had never seen mountains before—to map folds, faults and geologic deposits for the first time.

While at the University of South Florida, Gallant was part of the response to volcanic unrest at Nevado del Ruiz, in Colombia, and the eruption of Momotombo in Nicaragua. These experiences further bridged the gap between academic research and applied science, which set Gallant on her path after she graduated with her doctoral degree.

Thereafter, she moved to the United Kingdom in 2020 and joined the IMAGINE project at the University of Cambridge Department of Geography. Although the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from traveling to Chile and Argentina to examine the human and environmental geographies in these volcanic regions, she was able to forge strong connections with her colleagues and she looks forward engaging UH Hilo students in this network.

Gallant returned to the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 2021 and continues to engage in both exciting research and eruption response efforts. She has helped respond to the 2020, 2021, and 2023 eruptions of Kīlauea and the 2022 Mauna Loa eruption.

She brought several pieces of novel scientific equipment to study the volcanoes, including a magnetometer mounted on an uncrewed aerial vehicle, a ground penetrating radar, and a special radar called a terrestrial radar interferometer (TRI) that can detect rapid changes in the shape of the landscape.

The TRI was deployed during the waning phases of the Mauna Loa eruption. The flow front was difficult to continuously monitor due to inclement weather and logistical constraints of working at high altitude. Gallant and graduate students from University of South Florida successfully located the flow front in near-zero visibility conditions and were able to image flow thickening along the margins.

Group of people, some in wheelchairs, gather for photo with Grand Canyon in background.
Lis Gallant (far left in the back row) is a faculty member for the GeoSPACE project, a field course that focuses on improving the experiences of disabled students in the geosciences. Above, the 2022 GeoScientists Promoting Accessible Collaborative Experiences (GeoSPACE) group at the Grand Canyon, AZ. (Courtesy photo USGS)

Gallant has continued to teach during her time at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. She is a faculty member for the GeoSPACE project, a field course that focuses on improving the experiences of disabled students in the geosciences. Her efforts were recently recognized by the International Association for Geoscience Diversity when they presented her with their Inclusive Geoscience Education and Research Award in 2022.

Gallant is excited to bring all of these amazing assets—passion for teaching, diversifying the geosciences, and volcano research—to her students as she begins her first semester at UH Hilo. Although we will certainly miss her at HVO, we look forward to collaborating with her as a UH Hilo partner. UH Hilo has been an active partner with HVO for many years and this relationship will continue to thrive with the Department of Geology’s newest professor.

Please join us sharing our aloha for Lis Gallant!