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

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 15, no. 10 (October 1990)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Strong thermal activity but no new eruptions

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, 15:10. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199010-241040.

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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)


During a brief 17 October visit to the rim of 1978/90 Crater complex, white steam emissions were relatively voluminous. A lake had been re-established in the SE portion (R.F. Crater). The vent observed 3 October under the SW wall was apparently still present, although viewing conditions were poor. The margins of TV1 Crater appeared unchanged, and it was emitting white steam at low pressure. Strong, audible fumaroles were present in the area NW of the 20-m-high non-extrusive rock spine (first seen on 30 August and located 15 m W of TV1 Crater), where transparent vapors emerged from the crater floor, condensing to white steam above. East of 1978/90 Crater, Donald Duck vent was emitting wispy white vapor and its floor and vent area were clearly visible.

There was no evidence for further eruptive activity since 3 October from within 1978/90 Crater, TV1 Crater, or Donald Duck Crater.

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: B. Scott, DSIR, Rotorua; S. Sherburn, DSIR, Wairakei.