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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — July 1995

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 20, no. 7 (July 1995)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Rapid inflation, booming noises, and ashfall

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1995. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 20:7. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199507-241040.

Volcano Profile |  Complete Bulletin


Whakaari/White Island

New Zealand

37.52°S, 177.18°E; summit elev. 294 m

All times are local (unless otherwise noted)


A small ash eruption from an active vent within Wade Crater occurred around 29-30 June. Deformation and magnetic changes indicated inflation and warming, suggesting a possible progression into another eruptive cycle.

In contrast to recent visits, on 14 June the 1978/90 Crater Complex emitted continuous low-frequency booming noises. Wade Crater's lake had changed from light gray to bright emerald green, with gray slicks in the center near the beach below the fumarole. The lake in TV1 Crater was turquoise and at the same level as Wade Crater lake.

On 1 July a layer of light gray ash covered survey pegs C and J, and the walls of both the 1978/90 Crater Complex and Main Crater. The largest particles were 4-6 mm in diameter. As on 14 June, Wade Crater's lake was still bright emerald green. Following the 1 July observations, rainfall induced several landslides along Main Crater's walls.

Gas and condensate samples were taken from fumaroles ##1 and ##3, and temperatures measured 108 and 100°C, respectively. Both temperatures remained close to those seen over the last two years, although fumarole ##2 rose 6°C since November 1994. Water temperatures at Black Pot (93°C) were unchanged.

Inflation continued, although its center had moved slightly N, and was more symmetrical about Donald Mound with a steep downward gradient towards the TV1-Noisy Nellie area. Inflation rates have increased by 36% on the crater floor over the past 4 months, and by 136% at Donald Mound over the last 3.5 months. The current rates resemble those measured in the 5 years prior to the December 1976 eruption, although the present rate of uplift is 4-5x the rate 12 months prior to the 1976 event.

Ash collected on 6 July consisted of altered detritus and rounded, granular, clastic crystals and glass, an assemblage not directly from a vesiculating magma. This non-juvenile material possibly originated from a young, unaltered, solid andesitic body abraded by high-velocity gas. The sample contained euhedral, coarse-grained gypsum, which probably crystallized in the wet surface deposit near the air interface.

Magnetic surveys showed that since November 1994 there has been shallow cooling under TV1 crater, and heating at 50-100 m depth in the E side of Donald Mound. Similar results have been obtained since late 1993; however, the rate of magnetic change has more than doubled, suggesting that the heating rate has significantly increased.

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.J. Scott, Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand.