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Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) — February 1997

Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, vol. 22, no. 2 (February 1997)
Managing Editor: Richard Wunderman.

Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) Inflation peaked without eruptive activity

Please cite this report as:

Global Volcanism Program, 1997. Report on Whakaari/White Island (New Zealand) (Wunderman, R., ed.). Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network, 22:2. Smithsonian Institution. https://doi.org/10.5479/si.GVP.BGVN199702-241040.

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)


The 1993-96 inflationary and heating trend has peaked without eruptive activity, thus lowering the probability of a significant eruption in the short-term. However, since inflation is still higher than 1993 levels, eruptive activity in the medium- to long-term could still occur. The following summarizes a surveillance visit on 31 January and the report of a helicopter pilot in mid-December 1996.

Crater and fumarole observations. The water level of the lake in the 1978/90 Crater Complex continued to fall (BGVN 21:11). During 15-20 December, pilot R. Fleming reported the presence of a bank in the lake, which turned out to be a delta extending from the mouth of an E-W trending valley on the W side of the crater. The cyclonic activity of late December-early January resulted in an increase of the lake level and made the water turn dark gray. By late January an island appeared as the water level fell. Both the bank and the island were formed by sediment washed into the 1978/90 Crater complex from the valley.

Most of the crater lake was light blue-green with many bright orange-yellow slicks of sulfur at the edges of convection areas. The temperature was 69.5°C, similar to the last measurements. Vigorous geysering occurred from several vents NW of the island, in the May 91 Crater area. Enhanced fumarole emission also started near the Orca vent. Fumarole 13a temperature remained unchanged at 109°C.

Noisy Nellie was very quiet and had dried out; another fumarole appeared to the left of the main one. Two mud pots were near the main crater. Activity at fumarole 14 (80 m S of 13) had also decreased significantly to minor steam emission and a temperature as low as 75.3°C.

Deformation and magnetic surveys. A deformation survey revealed that the subsidence area observed in November 1996 (BGVN 21:11) had enlarged and clearly trended E-W. An elongated zone of subsidence became apparent on the Donald Mound where the subsidence rate was ~99 mm/month; an area of apparent uplift was observed across the E end of the main crater.

Magnetic changes observed between 4 November 1996 and 31 January 1997 were dominated by small increases (<20 nT), largely due to uncorrected diurnal changes or possibly broad or deep cooling. The only area with >50 nT change was around the N side of Donald Mound (+124 nT); at this site, however, the rate of change had decreased from 1.58 to 1.41 nT/day. A more dramatic change occurred close to the fumarole on the flat adjacent to Donald Mound, where the rate of change dropped from 5.95 nT/d to 0.48 nT/d. This suggested a higher temperature under this area and explained the higher level of fumarolic activity.

A significant magnetic decrease of -34 nT occurred NW of Donald Duck Crater, probably due to demagnetization under the E side of the 1978/90 Crater Complex.

Seismicity. In late July 1996 volcanic tremor was recorded for the first time after August 1995. The amplitude fluctuated during August before settling to a new background level, ~4x higher that the average levels earlier in 1996. Volcanic tremor continued to be recorded at this relatively higher level, but no significant trend was apparent.

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, C. Wilson, B.F. Houghton, and I. Nairn, Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences (IGNS), Private Bag 2000, Wairakei, New Zealand.