VOLCANOES, THIRD EDITION
Robert Decker and Barbara Decker
W.H. Freeman and Company, 1998
ISBN 0716724405 387 Pages
Review from EOS (Transactions of the American Geophysical Union)
vol. 79, no. 32, p. 387, August 11, 1998
Volcanoes, Third Edition, Robert Decker and Barbara Decker, W. H. Freeman, 320 pp., ISBN 0-7167-2440-5, 1998, $19.95 (paperback).
It takes confidence to title a smallish book merely "Volcanoes" because of the implication that the myriad facets of volcanism -- chemistry, physics, geology, meteorology, hazard mitigation, and more -- have been identified and addressed to some nontrivial level of detail. Robert and Barbara Decker have visited these different facets seamlessly in Volcanoes, Third Edition. The seamlessness comes from a broad overarching, interdisciplinary, professional understanding of volcanism combined with an exceptionally smooth translation of scientific jargon into plain language.
The result is a book which will be informative to a very broad audience, from reasonably educated nongeologists (my mother loves it) to geology undergraduates through professional volcanologists. I bet that even the most senior professional volcanologists will learn at least a few things from this book and will find at least a few provocative discussions of subjects they know.
The book is cleverly constructed in that it approaches volcanology from many sides. Some chapters emphasize geologic or volcanological science, other chapters emphasize eruption chronologies and the toll humanity paid during these eruptions, and yet others explore wider issues pertaining to volcanology and society and Earth history.
The first half of the book contains chapters interweaving volcanism (in the form of eruption chronologies of Surtsey, Krakatau, Mount St. Helens, and Kilauea) with the basic geology, as it pertains to volcanism, of mid-ocean ridges, plate tectonics, subduction, and hot spots. The geologic discussions are put in historic context (for example, the geosynclinal precursor to plate tectonics is briefly mentioned).
The third quarter of the book contains discussions of central topics such as volcano morphology, types of eruptions, and deposits. This core material is what virtually every volcanology book has in common and is the nuts and bolts of terminology and classification that make introductory geology so challenging to teach and tedious to learn. The Deckers manage this readably, partly by clear writing and partly by injecting interesting asides.
The last quarter of the book explores some of the distal facets of volcanism, such as origin of the atmosphere and hydrosphere, geothermal power, ore deposits, and impact of volcanism on climate. There is one chapter I hoped to see in this section that is not there, and that is a chapter that explores the question of why people are so drawn to volcanoes. Why are volcanoes such a powerful icon in mythology, literature, and art. Why do volcanoes form the core of so many of our national parks? Why do kids think volcanoes are so cool? The Deckers have a wonderfully worded hint of this in their preface: "Volcanoes assail the senses. They are beautiful in repose and awesome in eruption; they hiss and roar; they smell of brimstone. Their heat warms, their fires consume; they are the homes of gods and goddesses."
The final chapter is called "Reducing Volcanic Risk." The authors approach this subject through narratives of the results of monitoring preceding and during the recent eruptions at Mount Pinatubo, Nevado del Ruiz, Rabaul, and others. They do not take the approach of explaining various geophysical and geochemical monitoring techniques in extended technical detail. Instead they concentrate on highlighting the results of good monitoring and good communication among scientists and emergency service agencies (Pinatubo) and examining the failure of monitoring, education, and communication which has led to some large disasters (Nevado del Ruiz). They stress, appropriately, the need for outreach and education, and specifically credit the Krafft film "Understanding Volcanic Hazards" for extreme usefulness at Pinatubo.
Finally, the book is impressively up to date. Many of the eruption narratives are from this decade. Very recent technical advances, such as low-powered, real-time, telemetered deformation monitoring by the Global Positioning System are recognized. The issue of the safety of high-flying large jet aircraft, which has only recently been widely recognized by volcanologists, is addressed. Also, the appendix provides a very good list of volcanology Web sites.
One of my favorite things about the book is the inclusion of witticisms and snippets of literature, often times humorous and sometimes only tangentially related to the material, at the head of each chapter. Examples include a quote from Tennyson referring to the atmospheric effects of the Krakatau eruption, and the heading "Mother Nature always bats last" introducing the volcanic risk reduction chapter.
Volcanoes, Third Edition is a welcome and wonderful addition to volcanology literature. It is authoritative, impressively current, clearly written, and concise, yet broad in both scope and approach. Christopher J. Nye, Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys and Alaska Volcano Observatory, Fairbanks, Alaska, USA