Book review: Introducing volcanology: A guide to hot rocks, by Dougal Jerram

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Jon Trevelyan (UK)

This is the third in a series of earth science books published by Dunedin, the previous two of which (on palaeontology and geology) have been reviewed in this magazine. I said of those books that they were excellent little volumes for the beginner and the amateur, and the current book is no different.

Written by the ubiquitous volcano specialist, Dougal Jerram (aka Dr Volcano), who was recently on television in the BBC’s ‘The hottest place on Earth’ – a film about an expedition to the lava lake of Erta Ale in Ethiopia – it is a nice little summary of the basics of the science of volcanology. Jerram assumes that everybody loves volcanoes (and, in a sense, we all do love their power, danger and awesome beauty).

He then proceeds to explain the plumbing, including discussing how the theory of plate tectonics underpins the entire science of volcanoes, and goes on to explain the complexity that tectonic processes give rise to. He also explains the mineralogy and shows how the theories can both explain past eruptions and be used to understand present and future eruptions. All of this is illustrated by using past and present examples of volcanoes, including the infamous Mt St Helens eruption, Santorini, Hawaii and the 1873 eruption of Laki. The latter is an excellent example that he uses to explain the serious, worldwide effects that volcanoes can have on mankind.

The subject matter inevitably cries out for good illustrations, and the explanatory diagrams and photographs in this guide are extremely good and certainly as good as the previous two volumes. In addition, the writing is easy to understand (there is also a glossary) and fluent. More importantly, the reader cannot be unaffected by the author’s obvious enthusiasm, which comes through on every page.

It follows that if you have the other two books, get this for the set. If you haven’t, you should buy it anyway if you are interested in the subject, but have only the most basic knowledge. It will only take a short while to read and, when you have finished, you will definitely begin to understand why your 2010 holiday flight was cancelled by an explosion in far off Iceland.

Introducing Volcanology: A Guide to hot rocks, by Dougal Jerram, Dunedin Academic Press Ltd, Edinburgh (2011), 118 pages (paperback), ISBN: 978-1903544266

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