From a definition of volcano to conceptual volcanology
Published:August 01, 2010
Volcanology textbooks either use the classical “opening-in-the-ground” definition of a volcano or simply avoid a definition. A possible systemic redefinition of the term volcano is considered in this paper. Starting from the classical Aristotelian requirements of a definition, it is shown that only a definition that is part of a hierarchically organized system of definitions can be accepted. Thus, conceptual constructs should reflect the same type of makeup as nature's processes, which are hierarchically organized. Such a line of reasoning implies that a volcano should be defined by making an explicit mention of the hierarchy of systems to which it belongs. Therefore, volcano can be defined as either a subsystem (i.e., the eruptive subsystem) of the broader igneous system or as a particular type of igneous system (i.e., one reaching the surface of Earth). A volcano, viewed as a volcanic system, is composed of a magma-generation subsystem, a magma transport subsystem, magma storage subsystem(s), and an eruptive subsystem. The accurate definition and identification of each subsystem should allow distinction between individual volcanoes in both space and time. Minimal conventional requirements need to be agreed upon by volcanologists to identify and recognize a particular volcano from other volcanoes (including those partially occupying the same space but separated in time, or those partially overlapping in both space and time). An accurate definition of a volcano using the systemic approach involves definitions of other basic terms and concepts of volcanology in a similar way, eventually resulting in a hierarchical system of definitions that would lend volcanology a solid, consistent, and coherent conceptual core, increasing its scientific maturity. Conceptual volcanology can be envisaged as addressing the issue of accurate definition of basic terms and concepts, besides nomenclature and systematics, aiming at reaching the conceptualization level of more basic sciences.