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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — May 1990

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 15, no. 5 (May 1990)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Ash emission from new vent; deflation reverses

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1990. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 15:5. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199005-241040.

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Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Brown ash clouds rose from a new pit vent on the E side of R.F. Crater (near the SE wall of 1978 Crater) during 17 May fieldwork by geologists from NZGS and the Univ of Canterbury. The new pit appeared to be at the same location as three intense gas vents seen on 3 March (BGVN 15:03). Pulses of activity were observed at 1029, 1048, and 1436, and occasional light ashfalls occurred on the rim of 1978 Crater. Several detonations were heard, the strongest at 1041, but were not correlated with periods of visible tephra fall. Fumarole temperatures were similar to those observed during early March fieldwork, with a maximum measured value of 459°C.

Three new tephra layers had been deposited since early March. New material was 130 mm thick at one site on the 1978 Crater rim, consisting of two medium green, very fine to fine ash layers Separated by 8-10 mm of brick red, very fine ash. The deposits thinned rapidly with distance from the crater; only the two younger layers, totaling 14 mm, were found at a survey marker (peg XII) 180 m from the rim.

Deformation data showed a reversal of the general deflation, centered E of 1978 Crater, that was measured in March. Inflation had occurred since 6 March in the 1978 Crater area (in the vicinity of R.F. and Corporate Craters) although minor deflation persisted near the earlier deflation center. Magnetic data suggested a shallow cooling (up to 200 m deep) centered near the zone of persistent deflation, superimposed on widespread and possibly deep-seated heating that was strongest below the SW corner of the crater floor.

Geologic Background. The uninhabited Whakaari/White Island is the 2 x 2.4 km emergent summit of a 16 x 18 km submarine volcano in the Bay of Plenty about 50 km offshore of North Island. The island consists of two overlapping andesitic-to-dacitic stratovolcanoes. The SE side of the crater is open at sea level, with the recent activity centered about 1 km from the shore close to the rear crater wall. Volckner Rocks, sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NW. Descriptions of volcanism since 1826 have included intermittent moderate phreatic, phreatomagmatic, and Strombolian eruptions; activity there also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. The formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries caused rapid changes in crater floor topography. Collapse of the crater wall in 1914 produced a debris avalanche that buried buildings and workers at a sulfur-mining project. Explosive activity in December 2019 took place while tourists were present, resulting in many fatalities. The official government name Whakaari/White Island is a combination of the full Maori name of Te Puia o Whakaari ("The Dramatic Volcano") and White Island (referencing the constant steam plume) given by Captain James Cook in 1769.

Information Contacts: J. Cole,Univ of Canterbury, Christchurch.