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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — November 1991

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 16, no. 11 (November 1991)
Managing Editor: Lindsay McClelland.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Tephra emission continues from new crater

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1991. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (McClelland, L., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 16:11. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199111-241040.

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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)


An explosive episode on 24 November at 1400 ejected a tephra column and produced an E-type seismic event detected by a nearby seismometer. The tephra column was seen from the mainland by helicopter pilot R. Fleming, who estimated that it rose to 2,000 m.

Fieldwork on 28 November revealed fresh andesitic scoria bombs scattered over a wide area from 250 m NE to 500 m ESE of its probable source, the new crater (Wade) that had formed in mid-October (BGVN 16:10). Bombs ranged to 50 cm across and most were irregularly shaped. As much as 2 cm of gray ash covered the brick-red ash erupted by the new crater in late October and early November. During the 2-hour visit, emission of gas and fine, gray-brown ash from Wade crater was essentially continuous, accompanied by constant loud rumbling and occasional clattering noises that were probably caused by rocks striking the vent walls. The new crater was much larger than when first seen on 23 October, forming an oval to sub-rectangular slot extending across the floor of the 1978/91 Crater complex. TV1 crater, roughly 100 m NE of Wade, weakly emitted vapor and fine gray ash. May 91 crater appeared quiet.

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: C. Wood, DSIR Geology & Geophysics, Rotorua.