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Find Your Science at GSA
25 August 2010
GSA Release No.10-46
Christa Stratton
Director of Education, Communication, & Outreach
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New GSA Special Paper Asks a Deceptively Complicated Question

Boulder, CO, USA - Since ancient times, humankind has been acutely aware of Earth's volcanic activity. It's fair to say that most everyone has an "intuitive" knowledge of what a volcano is. However, as revealed in this new Special Paper from The Geological Society of America, attempting a formal definition of a "volcano" that includes the most recent advances and discoveries is not a trivial matter.

Editors Edgardo Cañón-Tapia of Spain's Centro de Investigación Cientifíca y de Educación Superior and Alexandru Szakács of Romania's Sapientia University compare current scientific understanding of volcanoes to that of the planets, noting that, while the same intuitive knowledge applies to our conception of what a planet is, "nevertheless, as recent events have shown" (the re-categorization of Pluto, for example) "the definition of a planet is far from being well-established."

The nine chapters in this GSA Special Paper demonstrate that it is possible to advance more than one answer to the question, "What is a volcano?" and provide a re-framing of the concept in order to engender a climate for reevaluation of current knowledge, generation of new ideas, and discussion among scientists within the discipline. Conceptual approaches also highlight possible new avenues of basic volcanological research.

Volume editors Cañón-Tapia and Szakács work to ensure that the "fundamental concepts in this volume are discussed in the light of the philosophy of science and classical philosophy, providing with those approaches a more general intellectual flavor beyond the strictly scientific and technical aspects."

Individual copies of the volume may be purchased through the Geological Society of America online store,, or by contacting GSA Sales and Service, .

Book editors of earth science journals/publications may request a review copy by contacting Jeanette Hammann, .

What is a Volcano?
Edgardo Cañón-Tapia and Alexandru Szakács (editors)
Geological Society of America Special Paper 470
SPE470, 140 p., $60.00; Member price $45.00
ISBN 978-0-8137-2470-6