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Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland

Brian Upton

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06 Aug 2015
Dunedin Academic Press
248 pages - 234 x 156 x 20mm
Scotland's mountains and glens retain the secrets of the long and frequently violent geological history that has gone into their making. Volcanoes have played a major role in the creation of Scotland and while the youngest, a mere sixty million years old, were responsible for much of the scenic splendour of the Inner Hebrides, the rocks composing many of the famous Scottish landforms as, for example, those of Glencoe and the Edinburgh district are also the direct result of volcanism.

Volcanoes and the Making of Scotland explores back in time from the most recent examples to volcanoes of the obscure Precambrian times which left their signature in the ancient rocks of the far north-west. Geographically the book ranges across all of Scotland from Shetland to the Borders. Reflecting current research into Scotland's geology, the author also speculates as to the climate, geography and ecology of the long-gone landscapes in which the volcanoes of differing ages were created and destroyed.

The book is extensively illustrated with maps, sketches, cross-sections and photographs and relates what can currently be seen in the worn-down remains of Scotland's old volcanoes to active analogues around the world. This book vividly brings life and meaning to what the layman would otherwise regard as cold and incomprehensible rocks.
Foreword. 1: Introduction; 2: Time on Earth and a Brief History of Scotland; 3: Magmas, Igneous Rocks and Volcanic Products; 4. Lava Flows and Pyroclastic Deposits; 5. Early Cainozoic Volcanism and the Birth of the North Atlantic; 6. Early Cainozoic Volcanoes: the Big Ones. 7. Scotland within a Super-continent: Upper Carboniferous and Permian Volcanoes; 8. Post-Caledonian Relaxation: the Lower Carboniferous Volcanoes; 9. Volcanoes in the Old Red Sandstone Continent; 10. Volcanoes and the Iapetus Ocean; 11. Volcanoes as seen through a glass darkly: the earlier pre-Cambrian record; 12. Epilogue. Select Bibliography. Index of Place Names. Index of Selected Technical Terms.
Brian Upton was professor of petrology in the University of Edinburgh. He has worked, taught, led geological field trips for students and amateurs and travelled widely in Scotland over the past fifty years

'We will all have our favourite Scottish volcanoes and there really is something in this book for everyone. But it will be welcomed in particular by students at all levels and by amateur geologists such as those who read The Edinburgh Geologist. They will learn so much about all the fascinating volcanic relics that we are fortunate to have in Scotland, will clarify their understanding of volcanic and magmatic processes in general and, above all, will thoroughly enjoy reading an undoubted masterpiece.' The Edinburgh Geologist

'This is a well-produced book, 240mm x 160m and 20mm thick, but quite heavy so you probably wouldn’t carry it in your ruck- sack! Printed on shiny paper, reading some of the diagrams can be a bit tricky in certain light.
The book comprises 12 chapters, a bibliography and an index. I thought that having no glossary would be a problem, but technical terms are explained at least once within the text. They can be found in the index, though you then have to turn to the particular page for definitions — just a niggle really. The first four chapters give an introduction as to what to expect from the book: information on how volcanoes form, plate tectonics, geologic time, mantle plumes, magmas, pyroclastics, lava and igneous rocks. I found these chapters a really good revision of basics, with some new information too. Upton uses modern analogies too. There are lots of diagrams, although references to them are sometimes not as clear as they might be. The photos are generally of good quality.
The next seven chapters go into detail about the various volcanoes that have formed in ‘Scotland’. And this is where the book becomes somewhat unusual (which Brian Upton admits!). He takes the formation of the various igneous centres chronologically, but from the most recent backwards. This is not something I am used to — I tend to think in terms of old-to- young, in geological chronology, not vice versa. Also, when making something, you usually start at the beginning not the end. However, his point is that there is more evidence available from the most recent volcanoes about their formation and history. He then applies this to the more limited evidence of the older areas, ‘imagining’ what might have happened, say, in the Devonian, while pointing out that it is ‘informed guesswork’ and that we will probably never know: so much time, so much erosion, so little left! There is a comprehensive section on the Edinburgh volcanics, with very specific examples. Chapter 11 concerning the Pre-Cambrian is particularly fascinating, and shows the information available through geochemical analysis. Chapter 12 contains a summary. In a nutshell, Scotland is a graveyard of volcanoes.
The book took very careful reading. Rereading of some sections was needed, as the story is very complicated — I think I knew it was, but not quite that complicated. While this is a serious book, Brian Upton’s style includes the colloquial and he does add humour on occasions (but I’ll leave the reader to find these!).
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I think it would be a valuable addition to your bookshelf, especially if you are interested in Scottish geology. I will take it with me every time I am in Scotland, albeit not in my rucksack.' Proceedings of the OUGS

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