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Report on White Island (New Zealand) — March 1991

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 3 (March 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

White Island (New Zealand) Ash emission from new vent

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on White Island (New Zealand). In: McClelland, L. (ed.), Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:3. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199103-241040.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 321 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


Light ashfall was reported at 2000 on 20 March by the crew of a fishing boat on the S side of the island, and continued as of 22 March. Visits to the volcano on 21 and 22 March revealed that the emission originated from a new vent (Orca) in a gully on the W side of the 1978/91 Crater. When first noted 13 February, the 20-25-m-wide vent had been the site of high heat flow and strong emission of white vapor. The March ash was not pumiceous or highly vesiculated, but it was rich in fresh glass in comparison with February tephra from TV1 Crater. Geologists suggested that the relatively fresh glass and the westward progression of activity was possibly due to new magma near the surface in the area of the new vent. Activity at TV1 Crater and the fumarole area NW of TV1 (on the floor of 1978/91 Crater) had declined to weak vapor emission on 22 March.

Seismic records were limited to 7-14 March by equipment difficulties. One small E-type event was recorded on 11 March, but no tremor was detected. Post-21 March seismograms (after equipment repair) indicated no change in the level of seismicity.

Geologic Background. Uninhabited 2 x 2.4 km White Island, one of New Zealand's most active volcanoes, is the 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 summit crater appears to be breached to the SE, because the shoreline corresponds to the level of several notches in the SE crater wall. Volckner Rocks, four sea stacks that are remnants of a lava dome, lie 5 km NNE. Intermittent moderate phreatomagmatic and strombolian eruptions have occurred throughout the short historical period beginning in 1826, but its activity also forms a prominent part of Maori legends. Formation of many new vents during the 19th and 20th centuries has produced 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.

Information Contacts: B. Scott, DSIR Geology & Geophysics, Rotorua.